The warm December sun trickled down like honey. As we arrived at the gate, we noticed the calm. Pigeons lined up on the wire. We could hear muffled music from one of the buildings. But we seemed far away from the seasonal traffic and bustle on the roads.
The air was still when I arrived at the Golden Age Home in Vineyard Town, Kingston yesterday morning. “Where is the Christmas breeze today?” I asked the security woman, who greeted me like an old friend. “Soon come,” she replied, with a knowing smile.
The Christmas breeze took a while to arrive, but the JN Foundation bus drove in the gate right on time, bearing volunteers (a vibrant group of JNBS employees and volunteers from the Positive Organization), gifts and donations.
What is the JN Foundation, you may ask? Well, it is the charitable arm of the Jamaica National Building Society, led by the visionary Jamaican businessman Earl Jarrett. Established in 1990, the Foundation spearheads projects that boost Jamaica’s development as a strong and healthy nation, in several critical areas (health, education, housing, youth, community and crime and safety). The focus of its volunteer program is on “Act!on” - yes, with an emphatic exclamation mark replacing the “i.”
As just one example, the Foundation’s Resolution Project empowers students in rural high schools with a basic photography course, then puts cameras in their hands to record and interpret the details of their daily lives in their own way. The Alpha Boys School for abandoned children in Kingston (which the Foundation also visited on Monday) also participated recently. The images are not always “pretty,” and there is a lot of social commentary in the photographs taken by the students. There is much more about all the Foundation’s projects – too many, and too varied, to mention them all here – at
So, on December 20, the JN Foundation, supported by the Building Society’s Corporate Communications Department and The Positive Organization (find them on Facebook!) descended on Cluster H at the Golden Age Home for its annual Christmas treat. The residents were quick to point out to me that the Foundation has supported Cluster H for many years. “They always come at Christmas,” one lady told me. “And Easter, too. And we do appreciate it.” In fact, the Foundation adopted Cluster H 28 years ago, and has been with them ever since.
The volunteers did not come empty-handed. Donations of supplies were gratefully received. As the cluster’s administrator commented, resources are not plentiful and they have to “make do” with what they can get. Donations of basic supplies – sheets, cleaning materials, and so on – are always welcome.
The residents are a little shy at first, but with a look of anticipation on their faces. A row of ladies – one sporting a lovely “church hat” and dress – has been awaiting our arrival eagerly. The volunteers walk around, shake hands and greet the residents; then settle down on the benches among them. A marvelous keyboard player plays and sings, accompanied for part of the time by a guitarist.
First there were the Christmas carols, with hearty renditions by several residents as the mike was passed around by our “lead singer” André (seasonally dressed in a Santa hat and matching red pants). One gentlemen sang in a commanding baritone; while a lady trilled with a sweet soprano into the microphone.
Being an MC is not as easy as it sometimes looks…but our happy and energetic MC Chevenese Peters never missed a beat. She got everyone in on the action. Soon, thanks to one volunteer, a sprightly gentleman was dancing (he claimed not to have done so for years, but he didn’t look at all rusty to me). By the end of the afternoon another, who had seemed a little coy when I first invited him, was seen gently swaying to the beautiful music.
Christmas is a time for nostalgia. We sang along to some “old-time” songs, like the Delroy Wilson classic “I’m in a Dancing Mood” (a particular favorite of mine) and many others. Then André and the “positive crew” upped the tempo with a lively version of the Black-Eyed Peas‘ “I Gotta Feeling,” with much fist-pumping, hopping up and down on one leg – and great backing vocals from the “Positive” crew! André sang some delightfully sweet songs that he wrote himself.
And that was just the music part! There was also chicken, delicious ham, rice and peas, Christmas cake and sorrel, which the residents thoroughly enjoyed. After lunch, it was time to hand out the gifts – each resident received a personally wrapped gift from JN Foundation. Some opened theirs right away; others kept them for later. There were smiles and many thanks.
But apart from all the “goodies” gratefully accepted, to me the most important part was what we often call nowadays “sharing.” What is sharing, exactly? It is sitting down, chatting about everything and nothing; telling a joke or a story; smiling; holding someone’s hand. Simply enjoying each other’s company, sometimes quietly, sometimes with much laughter. Eyes brightened; smiles appeared. Volunteers and residents got to know each other.
The afternoon became mellow. The sunlight softened as it filtered through the branches of the giant almond tree in the center of the cluster. Pigeons cooed. Some residents retired for a rest, while others stayed to continue listening to the music. One sensed that lazy, satisfied “after-Christmas-dinner” feeling, amidst a quiet companionship.
As we took our leave, there were hugs and kisses and waves. I know the JN Foundation will be back soon.
Outside, I greeted the security lady and several friends. “Christmas breeze is here,” she reminded me.
And so it was.
Congratulations to Anna-Kim (a superb organizer), Warren, André, Chevenese, Neville and The Organization, the musicians, the kind staff at Cluster H (who had a lot of fun), and everyone else at the Jamaica National Building Society/JN Foundation involved in this superb effort. I was proud to be a part of it, and look forward to returning at Easter 2013.
If you feel inspired, and would like to become an Act!on Jamaica volunteer for the JN Foundation, please complete the online form at
P.S. I found out yesterday that Jamaica National Building Society is one of the oldest companies in Jamaica. It started off as the Westmoreland Building Society, first meeting in 1874 under the chairmanship of its founder, Reverend Henry Clarke. One of the projects I particularly love is the JN Foundation’s sponsorship of a Parish History Project, working with local historian Marguerite Curtin. Appropriately, “The History of Westmoreland” is now available in bookstores island-wide. It’s a fascinating read.