Hours before the dual festivities started last Saturday night, Charmaine Sewell was watering the plants outside the front entrance of the Jamaican Canadian Association’s (JCA) centre and assisting with last minute preparations, while Rudolph Gibbs helped the musicians set up on stage and stood at the door pointing guests to their designated seats.
They exemplify the spirit of volunteer service that has supported the JCA for the past 51 years and which was being celebrated at the annual gala that also a doubles as a celebration of Jamaica’s independence.
Sewell was the recipient of an Outstanding Volunteer Award while Gibbs was presented with the President’s Award.
“Coming from the President, this is special because it says you have made an impression on the head of the organization,” said Gibbs, who migrated to Canada 22 years ago and has been a JCA member for the past 19 years. “She (Audrey Campbell) had many choices, so I am delighted and really honoured that I was chosen for this prestigious honour.”
Gibbs, who was in the bar assisting with the sale of beverages during the event, is a member of several JCA committees, including building, fundraising and scholarship.
“Wherever there is a need, I respond because this organization means a great deal to me,” he said.
A devoted member since 1996, Sewell’s primary responsibility is with the active women’s group. However, that doesn’t prevent her from helping the other committees.
“I have done something with all of them,” said the City of Toronto Employment and Social Services worker, who migrated to the Greater Toronto Area 39 years ago. “I have always had a passion for community service.”
Twelve years ago, Halifax-born Douglas Robertson received an Outstanding Volunteer Award at the JCA gala. He was recognized again with the award on Saturday for dedicated service.
The retired Scotiabank employee joined the organization nearly 15 years ago after marrying Jamaican-born Novelette Borland.
“I just enjoy being part of the JCA and serving with the building committee,” said Robertson, who worked with Scotiabank in the Eastern Caribbean and Virgin Islands.
Still grieving the loss of their daughter, Natalie Sutherland, to cancer a month ago, Leon and Carmen Sutherland – who have been married for 47 years – summoned the strength to attend the celebration and accept their 25-Year Service Awards.
“For us, it’s all about giving back,” said the family patriarch, who is on the building committee which he chaired for six years.
His wife is a women’s committee member.
The Sutherlands’ oldest child, Sudz, is a film director/screenwriter and former Share photographer.
Just over three decades ago when the JCA was looking at fundraising options, 2009 Lifetime Award winner Daphne Bailey suggested a walk-a-thon that has morphed into a community event.
The almost $600,000 raised from the event over the past 32 years have supported myriad JCA initiatives, including the scholarship and building funds and the Saturday Morning Tutorial Program.
Bailey, who is in her 49th year with the JCA, was the recipient of this year’s Community Service Award.
“I prefer to work in the background and not blow my own horn,” said the retired public health nurse who spent eight years in England prior to coming to Canada in 1960. “It’s however good to know that what you have done is appreciated and I am honoured by the recognition.”
Retired registered nurse Barbara Thomas, who has served on the social and membership committees and was a board vice-president for two years, received a Lifetime Award while Mary Green was presented with a Community Membership Award.
“This award means a lot to me,” said the membership committee member who has been in Canada for four decades.
Other award winners were Frederick Ellis (lifetime), Hyacinth Wilson, Hugh Lawson and Victoria Nelson (25 year), and Mary Mark, who was the recipient of the inaugural Outstanding Employee Award.
In the keynote address, Jamaica National Building Society general manager Earl Jarrett lauded the unique contribution of Jamaican nationals in Canada to their birth country.
“The Canadian Diaspora has always been strong supporters of Jamaica, but not in the same way that the Diaspora communities in the United States and England are,” said Jarrett, who is also the Jamaica Diaspora Foundation chair. “Canada is not a remittance country to Jamaica in a significant way. What Jamaican-Canadians are remitting is knowledge, know-how and philanthropic support. It’s what I call the I-remittance as in intelligent remittance.
“With Canada being the recipient of so many qualified Jamaicans, you are well poised to support the transformation that Jamaica needs which will benefit Jamaicans at home and those here by making available your know-how, skills and competence.”
Jarrett challenged the JCA to set up a database of Jamaican-Canadians with special skills.
“Jamaica needs great management expertise to assist with some of the challenges we face,” he said.
Each year, the JCA selects a theme to mark its anniversary. This year’s is “The JCA: Soaring to New Heights”.
“It all started with a small group of people with a vision that translated into action and here we are today,” said JCA president, Audrey Campbell. “Each year I marvel at the fact that we are one of the oldest Black organizations in this country. Not many survive one generation and we are into our second. Our foundation was built on fulfilling the needs of our community.
“As we venture into the next 50 years, it’s our responsibility to build on this legacy and to ensure the future of the organization. Over the next three months, we will be implementing a new governance model which will see the organization separate into three entities. Our membership component will remain intact with some changes, the social services will have its own board of experts and there will be a Foundation whose sole purpose will be to raise funds for both. We believe this will solidify the future.”
Former Ontario cabinet Minister Mary Anne Chambers, new Liberal Member of the Provincial Parliament (MPP) Mitzie Hunter, Member of Parliament Judy Sgro, York West MPP Mario Sergio and Toronto Police 31 Division unit commander, Superintendent Dave McLeod, attended the gala.
“Canada is so much richer because many of you chose to come here, live here, build your families and make our country what it is today,” said Sgro, who is a JCA member. “The JCA is now at a crucial time in its growth and some significant changes are being made that I believe will benefit not only the community, but the country as a whole.”
The JCA’s founding executive comprised its first president, Roy Williams, who attended the gala; Bromley Armstrong, Phyllis White, Mavis Magnus and the late Violet Carter, J.B. Campbell, Esmond Ricketts, Ira Dundas, George King and Owen Tennyson.
By RON FANFAIR