By RON FANFAIR
Growing up in a home and circle of close family friends who are steeped in community service exposed Audrey Campbell at a young age to the virtuous qualities of giving and sharing freely.
Yet it was not until six years ago that she decided to become fully immersed in a community organization when longtime Jamaica Canadian Association (JCA) member Helen Wynter – a friend of her parents, Edgar and Enid Campbell – made the suggestion.
She joined the membership committee because she wanted to know the members and get an appreciation of their contributions to the 47-year-old organization and later served on the fundraising committee before becoming a board member in 2006 and being appointed executive vice-president.
Campbell was installed as the JCA’s 15th president last January, when Herman Stewart stepped down for personal reasons. She is the fourth woman to fill the post following Kamala-Jean Gopie, Valarie Steele and Sandra Carnegie-Douglas.
“My father has been a Lodge Mason for nearly 25 years and my mother has done her fair share of volunteering,” said Campbell, who came to Canada at the age of eight. “They are very community oriented as well as their friends. So I have a very clear understanding of the value of community work and what it meant in terms of sustaining a society…For some reason though, I was never part of a community group until I joined the JCA which I was familiar with because I attended functions here.”
Once on board, Campbell vowed to make her mark and ensure that the JCA remains strong and relevant.
“This organization is at a crossroads,” she said. “We are an old organization with members who have been with us for many, many years. At the same time, we need to recruit new and young members and, as we move forward, we need to modernize and become technologically savvy. The challenge for us is to do this without making our older members feel that they are not wanted or they are not relevant.
“We should never forget that the organization has reached this point through the hard work of many of these stalwarts. For some of them, this is their home away from home and they have contributed a lot in terms of their time, effort and their own personal finances to bring the JCA to where it is today where it is widely recognized for its distinguished record of advocacy and service delivery.”
Five years ago, Gopie – who in 1979 became the JCA’s first female president – challenged the organization to acknowledge that change is necessary and make adjustments in a way that doesn’t tarnish the organization’s history.
The JCA is a hybrid organization, performing two district but equally valuable functions in the community. The organization has a strong commitment to serving its large membership base while at the same time delivering social services through its 18 full and part-time paid professional staff.
Last March, the JCA hired its first chief executive officer – Michael Foster – who has a strong background in finance and working with non-profit organizations, and a program manager to assist the CEO and pursue new funders. The JCA’s annual funding is almost $1.9 million.
The organization, which runs a successful Saturday morning mentoring program and has presented approximately $125,000 in bursaries and scholarships since 2002, is also reviewing its constitution, which was last updated in 1996, and seeking young talent.
“We recognize that we need to change and we need to grow and that’s why we engaged all our stakeholders in strategic planning sessions over the past few months so we could have a consensus on how we should move forward,” said Campbell who graduated from Morning Star Secondary School in Malton and Ryerson University where she studied business management.
“Recruiting young people has been a big challenge. We have to find out what will engage them and what their needs are. We know that technology is huge with them and they have to see opportunities for growth before they buy into what we have.”
Campbell said she was delighted when a young member (Danielle Dowdy) approached her a few months ago with the idea that the JCA should host a reception to recognize the appointment of Jamaican-born Peter Sloly as the Toronto Police Service’s second deputy chief.
“It was her idea and she ran with it with our support,” said Campbell. “Dudley Laws was also on the planning committee, so we had a good mix of the young and the old working together. The event was a huge success.”
As the JCA moves towards its 50th anniversary in 2012, Campbell said she would like to see the organization pay off the remaining $300,000 mortgage on its building and formally document its history by the landmark celebration.
“We have many living legends in our midst and it’s important that we talk to them and get a first-hand glimpse and sense of some of the JCA’s and Jamaican community’s rich history,” the Brampton resident said. “These stories need to be told and recorded and, hopefully, it can be done for us to present for our 50th birthday.”
After graduating from Ryerson, Campbell worked as a sales director for a marketing firm, part-time marketing associate with the Ontario Jockey Club and in the food business with family members before recently joining a Brampton furniture restoration company as a production management and marketing associate.