While vacationing in Jamaica last year, Sandra Whiting visited a few basic schools, including one she supported through the Project for the Advancement of Childhood Education (PACE) Canada.
“I remember the eager young faces I saw in those classrooms and feeling the hope that many Canadians have given them through the many contributions they have been making to PACE,” she said. “That was the inspiration for me to want to be part of this organization again.”
The storyteller, event host and volunteer was elected the organization’s 11th president last week.
Part of the committee that organised PACE’s first strawberry tea party shortly after the organization was formed 27 years ago, Whiting returns to the board after serving as fundraising chair for two years up until 2007.
“I now have a little window of time that I will like to spend with PACE,” she said. “This is a very important organization doing critical work when it comes to the upliftment of young Jamaican children and the basic school system in that country. I like volunteering and giving back. Over the years, I have pulled back a bit, but I am now ready to step up again and lead from the front.”
PACE was launched in 1987 with a group of Jamaican nationals and their friends in the Greater Toronto Area sponsoring 13 basic schools in Jamaica. Today, the Adopt-a-School program supports 331 schools from St. Mary in the north to Clarendon in the south and Portland in the east to Hanover in the west.
Over the years, some schools have closed or lost contact with their previous sponsors while others have benefitted from its supporters to the extent that they longer require aid. This is the case with the school Whiting once supported.
“It has fared very well and I am in the process of looking for a new school to work with,” she said.
For a dollar a day, individuals or groups can participate in the program. The annual $365 donation is sent to the sponsored school where the principal, community leaders and parents determine how the funds should be utilized.
Adopt-a-school sponsorships totalled Can$136,442.50 last year. Included in the sponsorship was a Royal Bank of Canada $10,000 donation that was directed to 40 schools that identified a need for toilets, urinals and wash basins and $18,000 from Helping Hands Jamaica Foundation that went to 50 schools.
Three years ago, the Carpenters District Council of Ontario donated $50,000 that will help fund the construction of the Sam Sharpe Teachers’ College Infant School & Special Needs Diagnostic Centre while last September, PACE Canada signed a second Memorandum of Understanding with Jamaica’s Human Employment & Resource Training Trust and Jamaica’s Early Childhood Commission to provide financial assistance for the training of early childhood practitioners.
The first MOU resulted in the certification of 48 early childhood practitioners.
Whiting replaces former Member of Provincial Parliament Mary Anne Chambers who stepped down after serving four years as president.
“I want to thank my predecessor for all that she has done and I want to build on that,” said Whiting. “It’s vital we continue to mobilise support for the basic schools.”
This is the first time that Whiting is heading a community organization since presiding over the Black Business & Professional Association from 1996-2000.
A juror with the Ontario and Toronto Arts Councils and member of the committee that organized a children’s rally with late South African president Nelson Mandela at SkyDome(now Rogers Centre) in 1999, she was the YWCA Women of Distinction co-chair and fundraising chair, Storytellers School of Toronto and Royal Bank of Canada Small Business Advisory Committee vice-chair, Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, Caribana, Empire Club of Canada, Metro Convention Centre and Canada Council Dance Advisory board member; Obsidian Theatre president and co-chair of the Jamaica 50 Celebration Performing Arts & Gala committee.
Whiting was quite active with the Jamaican Canadian Association, serving as fundraising chair for a decade and chair of the “Walk Good Committee” in 2010.
The other executive members are Paula Fennell (treasurer), Jodianne Scott-Sinanan (secretary) and Dorothy Cooke, Evra Trought-Pitters, Lorna King and Ken Bowen (directors). Diana Burke and Charmaine Sewell are the vice-presidents and Adopt-A-School co-chairs while the committee chairs are Chris Chambers (membership), Patricia South (fundraising), Jacqueline Spence (education), Carolyn Goulbourne-Warren (communication) and Marguerite South (children’s issues).
PACE emerged after then Jamaica Prime Minister Edward Seaga, who was in the city to celebrate the country’s 25th independence anniversary with nationals, suggested the Diaspora community consider supporting early childhood education in the Caribbean country.
Lifelong educator Dr. Mavis Burke, who was unable to attend the event because of illness, received a phone call the next day from a friend informing her of Seaga’s request.
She acted and the rest is history.
The most visible and consistent Jamaican charitable group in Canada, PACE is the only organization of its kind outside Jamaica that embraces early childhood education, raising thousands of dollars to help prepare kids between the ages of two and five for higher education.