On other service trips, students from Rochester’s McQuaid Jesuit High School have spent long hours sweating to build vital services for people such as latrines in impoverished areas of the Dominican Republic and inner-city Detroit.
But this year, when McQuaid students were recruited to volunteer during a spring break trip to Jamaica, it wasn’t their carpentry skills that were sought after. Instead it was their knowledge of sports, leadership and teamwork.
From May 17 to 26, 12 McQuaid seniors and three alumni helped to run the Jamaica Advantage through Sports for Youth camp for 109 children from the Riverton Human Resource Center, which is located in an economically depressed area of Kingston/St. Andrew.
Many of the Riverton children and their families live off the food and raw materials they can scavenge from a local garbage dump. Organizers say the goal of the camp is to show children that there is a life outside of their neighborhood, to introduce them to the University of West Indies in Mona, Jamaica, and to teach them love, teamwork, joy and faith.
Children ages 9 to 13 who take part in the camp are recommended for it by their teachers at the St. Patrick’s Foundation’s Youth Vocational Training Program, which teaches garment construction, woodworking, electrical installation, food preparation, data operation and cosmetology. The foundation operates the Riverton Human Resource Center and other Jamaican ministries and was started by Catholic priest Msgr. Richard Albert, a Franciscan Friar of the Atonement and a Bronx native who is the episcopal vicar of St. Catherine Parish in the Archdiocese of Kingston, Jamaica.
Campers receive soccer and swimming equipment, snacks and lunch, a camp bag, memory book, arts and crafts materials, and sports trading cards. The camp is sponsored by St. Patrick’s Foundation, McQuaid and First Presbyterian Church of Pittsford.
Though Jamaica is known for its posh resorts, life away from the north shore of the island where the resorts are located is very different, said Chris Hood, director of Christian service at McQuaid. Many parts of Jamaica suffer from unemployment, rampant inflation, crime and drugs.
“A lot of these kids have never swam before, let alone been in an Olympic-sized pool on a college campus,” Hood said.
The Olympic-themed camp included opening and closing ceremonies, an Olympic Village featuring games and crafts, and a resident Olympian, 1988 Olympic silver medalist sprinter Grace Jackson, a Jamaican native who also competed in the 1984 and 1992 Olympics. She is now the manager of student services for sports for the University of the West Indies.
The idea for the camp was created by Pittsford resident H. Curtis Herge Jr., who grew up in Kingston in the 1960s when his father worked for the U.S. State Department’s U.S. Agency for International Development on a project to improve the educational system in Jamaica. Herge said when he expressed a desire to help out in Jamaica to Jesuit Father Louis Grenier, an longtime Jamaican advocate, the priest put him in touch with Msgr. Albert and St. Patrick’s Foundation.
Msgr. Albert’s request was simple, Herge recalled. He wanted American youths to get a chance to interact with and make friends with Jamaican youths.
From that challenge, Herge came up with the idea of an Olympic-themed sports camp along with his friend Dave McEneany, a longtime Special Olympics volunteer and a McQuaid graduate. The hope is to expose young people who live in Riverton’s poverty to another world and to reward them for working hard in their vocational programs.
Last year, the camp was staffed by First Presbyterian Church of Pittsford; however this year the church had a prior commitment to travel to Mozambique for mission work. Due to McEneany’s connection to McQuaid, he approached the school about bringing some of its students to the camp.
“Lots of times mission projects for youth are construction projects,” McEneany said. “Construction is not my bag. We wanted to do something where youth from here would have an opportunity to relate to youth from another world.”