Gay Nagle Myers
Gay Nagle Myers

I was at a rockin' Caribbean party with Jamaican performer Shaggy last week.

Well, not literally. Virtually. The "Mr. Jamaica" superstar appeared live at Joe's Pub in New York City to lend his support to the 17th annual auction fundraiser for the Rockhouse Foundation's work with schoolchildren in western Jamaica.

The event was streamed live on YouTube for the first time in 16 years (last year was a no-go due to Covid). Shaggy's energy, passion, singing and dance moves poured right through my laptop screen. 

The Rockhouse Foundation was founded by the owners of the Rockhouse Hotel & Spa in Negril and sister property Skylark Negril Beach Resort in 2003 to transform the places where Jamaica's children learn and to support the people who teach them. So far the foundation has invested more than $6 million to transform seven local public schools and libraries.

"In March 2020 when the pandemic hit and everything closed, the children no longer could get meals at  school," said Peter Rose, the foundation's president. "It's been a struggle for so many families with no paychecks to put food on the table.

"We pivoted and formed the Rockhouse Food Distribution Initiative, and every Friday for the last 90 weeks we have supplied food staples, such as flour and rice and cooking oil, to 1,000 families, a total of 250 tons so far," he said.

Now the foundation has embarked on its biggest project, the Sav Inclusive School in the area's capital city of Savanna-la-Mar near Negril, where typical learners and children with a wide range of special needs will be taught in the same classroom.

"We're committed to expanding the school through primary and high school so that kids who enter kindergarten will know they will be in the same school until they graduate," Rose said.

"It will be designed like a campus with avenues and colonnades," he said. "They will feel comfortable, and those with special needs will have speech and physical therapists they know and who know them through their school years. It will be their home away from home until they graduate."

"We're almost ready to build this campus, in phases bit by bit over the next five to seven years."

All schools in Jamaica are set to reopen to in-person learning in January. The foundation has intensified its efforts to get repairs and maintenance completed and health and safety protocols in place in the seven schools currently under its care.

As the auction began at Joe's Pub to raise money for the new school, Rose asked his audience, many of whom were Jamaicans, friends of Jamaica and former guests at Rockhouse and Skylark, to "dig deep." And they did.

The bidding was fast and furious for prizes that included roundtrip JetBlue tickets, five-night stays at Rockhouse and Skylark, and dinner for 10 at Miss Lily's restaurants in New York, Negril and Dubai.

Other bids were taken to fund transportation to the schools, maintenance at the schools, provide breakfast for the children, buy school supplies and install internet in the classrooms.

In all, the event raised more than $1 million for the foundation's educational projects. And topping off the evening was Shaggy. I raised a glass of Jamaican rum to toast him and his fundraising efforts for the foundation as well as his many other works of charity for Jamaican causes.

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