J’cans in New Jersey providing a helping hand to homeland
Twenty-five years ago, a group of Jamaicans living in New Jersey gathered to discuss ways to honour Ardene High School student, Jody-Ann Maxwell on becoming the first Jamaican and Caribbean-born person to win the Scripps-Howard Spelling Bee competition.
Out of that gathering was born the Jamaica Organization of New Jersey (JON-J) which this year will mark its 25th anniversary with a fundraising gala at which a number of outstanding Jamaicans will be honoured.
Among the eight people to be honoured are Jamaica’s ambassador to the United States, Audrey Marks; comedian Oliver Samuels; singer Richie Stephens; Jamaican-American Congresswoman Yvette Clarke; Dr Robert Clarke and Irwine Clare, among others.
The gala will take place on August 26 at the Newark Marriott International Hotel in Newark, New Jersey.
When the initial 18 participants in that first meeting decided to form JON-J, little did they foresee the impact that the organisation would have on Jamaica and the diaspora.
They set as their mission to empower Jamaicans and their descendants to maintain a cultural identity within their communities through establishing relationships within the business, civic, educational, religious, and international arena. This enables the promotion of recreational activities and assists in the development and improvement of community-related projects in Jamaica and across the state of New Jersey.
Today, JON-J has some six chapters spread across the state of New Jersey with a seventh chapter on the verge of being incorporate.
Owen Eccles, president of JON-J, told The Gleaner in an interview that the organisations carry out a wide range of programmes both in the diaspora and in Jamaica.
He pointed out that the organisation is in the process of adopting the Ulster Spring Health Centre and a delegation from JON-J will be in Jamaica in September to finalise this process.
“This is only one of the projects that we do as an organisation in Jamaica and the diaspora,” he said.
Eccles pointed out that, during the COVID pandemic, the organisation collected hundreds of laptops and iPads that were sent to Jamaica to benefit students. In addition, the organisation raised some US$7,000 which was also sent to Jamaica. These funds were used to help fund a dialysis machine, he said.
Eccles pointed out that the organisations focuses on food, family, assistance, celebration and emergency, what he calls ‘FACE’.
“In the area of food, we work, along with the Jamaican Consulate, to provide food stuffs to residents who are in need of such assistance. We create programmes to find solutions to the needs of such families,” he said.
JON-J also provides, where necessary, financial support to families who have lost loved ones to assist with funeral costs.
The provision of scholarships to high school students going on to college is another of the organisation’s major initiatives, he said.
JON-J observes a number of Jamaican cultural events aimed at keeping traditions alive among young persons from Jamaica – whether born in the United States or migrating from the island.
He stressed that it is important that children are immersed in the Jamaican traditions, to keep such traditions alive.
But JON-J’s outreach efforts are not confined only to Jamaica.
The organisation has provided assistances to people in Haiti, Puerto Rico and Dominica, during times of natural disaster. Such assistance has taken the form of financial, as well as food and clothing assistance.
Eccles pointed out that his organisation works very closely with churches in New Jersey to identify and provide assistance to people in need.
“We have a wonderful working relationship with a number of churches, with the Jamaican Consulate in New York and the Embassy in Washington as we go about assisting our fellow Jamaicans and others,” he said.
For the future, Eccles said the aim is to increase the number of chapters across the state of New Jersey in order to better identify programmes of assistance to those who need it.