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Jamaica: Hitting a High Note After Hurricane Dean

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You never know what will make an impression on someone, or what they will remember.

Two years ago, my supervisor, Holly Inurreta, sat through a hurricane in Jamaica. Before the winds had died down and before the rains had subsided, she was on the phone to our partners - the local organizations with which CRS works - looking to get out into the communities and make plans for response. Holly's job is to assist CRS country programs and partner organizations in all things emergency: mitigation, preparation, and response.

She succeeded in getting hold of Fabian Brown, then executive director from the St. Patrick's Foundation. By luck or by grace, he happened to be nearby, and agreed to pick her up.

Founded in ´94, SPF works in some tough communities on the southern edge of Kingston. They run early childhood education centers; remedial classes to get kids back into the traditional school system; and carpentry, electrical, garment, culinary, and cosmetology certifications that are recognized nationally. They even have a marching band of some 60 young people, well-known for taking public messages and positive vibes into their communities.

When Holly arrived, she found the communities seriously affected by Hurricane Dean. For reasons ranging from poor locations and poor infrastructure to poor capacity to respond, communities like those in which St. Patrick's works are often among the most vulnerable and most affected. Hurricane Dean was headed straight for Kingston, and, while it veered west at the last minute, the violent winds and strong rains still brought significant damage.

Amidst the affects of the storm, Holly found youth from St. Patrick's All-Stars marching band out in their communities and lending a hand. Besides their energy and enthusiasm, they brought additional gifts to hurricane response; they knew who and where the most vulnerable families were, and were going to check up on them.

As bad as things were in Kingston, the word on the street was that communities to the west, about 45 minutes away in the town of Old Harbour Bay, were hit harder. So Holly, Fabian, and two youth leaders from St. Patrick's All-Star Band went to check it out. From an already difficult situation, they went forth and were touched by the need of others.

Later, they returned...with instruments, with dancers, with skits. They even brought some of their own school supplies to give away. They marched through the streets of Old Harbour Bay, delighting everyone they passed.

The young volunteers of the St. Patrick's All Stars made an impression on Holly.

And what happens next is a great example of what CRS does. Together, CRS and the St. Patrick's Foundation submitted a project proposal to USAID. The idea was to build on what St. Patrick's was already doing: giving youth opportunities, skills, and encouragement to do something positive. CRS would help provide a link to funds and technical expertise. In the process, we would strengthen community resilience to natural disasters. The youth and the wider community would also benefit in other ways, with training and new skills and improved organization that would help even if an emergency never took place.

I'm happy to say that the grant has been approved, and the project is now getting underway. The first step was to gather some of the key people together to talk about how we are going to make this idea a reality. The meeting included staff from St. Patrick's, community representatives, and, of course, youth from the community.

The meeting turned out to be a reunion of sorts. One of the band members who had left such and impression on Holly two years before was on hand again, this time to help plan the project.

As it turns out, Holly wasn't the only one impressed by the collaboration between CRS and the St. Patrick's Foundation after the events of Hurricane Dean.

"I heard it was CRS," the musician said. "So I couldn't miss it."