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Highlighting the Life Changing Work of ESL Community Impact Partners: Rochester Jamaican Organization

Q&A with Joel Frater, President, Rochester Jamaican Organization

January 2023

What began as a celebration of independence evolved into an organization that provides education, healthcare awareness and advocacy, development of financial and business acumen, and social support for those in need. The work of the Rochester Jamaican Organization is literally saving lives and building a strong foundation for individual and family success. Read on to learn more about our ESL Community Impact partner.

How did the formation of the Rochester Jamaican Organization come about in Rochester?

Formed in 2006, the organization began with a small group of individuals who espoused the idea that as immigrants and descendants of immigrants we should organize to celebrate Jamaica’s Independence each year. Whereas it was important for us to celebrate this milestone, we began to ask question about the true meaning of independence and concluded that true independence is grounded in sound education, healthcare awareness and advocacy, development of financial and business acumen, and providing social support for those in need. Today, our programs and services reflect the evolving needs in our community.

Rochester Jamaican Organization volunteers

What is the focus of your organization?

The mission of the Rochester Jamaican Organization is committed to improving the lives of Jamaicans living in Rochester and Jamaica through collaboration with U.S and Jamaica based organizations. Our values focus on: Excellence, Empowerment, Inclusion and Equity, Service, Stewardship, and Integrity/Ethics.

Our goals are to advocate for resources to support the socio-economic sufficiency of Jamaicans in Rochester and Jamaican, build strategic partnerships and collaboration to leverage collective impact, build capacity for organizational leadership and mission sustainability, position, and market the organization to ensure brand awareness and member and community engagement and support, and advocate for policies and procedures to help Jamaican immigrants assimilate into the Rochester community.

What kind of impact do you see in the community?

Education: In 2011, we began by establishing a $500 college scholarship in honor of our late founding president. In 2022, we awarded nine scholarships totaling $22,000 made possible through a variety of sponsors. Also, scholarship recipients receive mentoring and social support throughout their educational journey. We are inspired by Nelson Mandela’s philosophy that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Health: In 2022, we hosted our 11th Annual Community Health Fair with a focus on mental health, food distribution, and a COVID-19 vaccine clinic. Through this work, we believe we have been able to address the health disparity issues that are pervasive in our community.

Rochester Jamaican Organization awards

Social Support: Throughout the COVID-19 health pandemic, we have been engaged in delivery of meals to “homebound senior citizens.” The initiative has been invaluable for these individuals who face mobility challenges.

Business and Finance: Over the years, we have partnered with the Small Business Development Center and other financial advisors to offer workshops on small business development. This has been beneficial to existing business owners and those considering starting a business.

Personal Stories from Individuals and Families served by Rochester Jamaican Organization:

Living alone with no one to talk to or to ask for help
A retiree with limited mobility lived alone. Her children lived in Florida and during the pandemic were not able to visit her. We delivered meals to her once per month for four months. On our first visit while physically distancing, she lamented that we were her first human contact in three months. She chatted for two hours. On our second visit, she could not open her front door and didn't know who to call. She was ecstatic that we came to drop off a meal so that we could also help her with the door. We were able to help her get the door opened and provided her a box of groceries. We followed up with several calls and she spoke with passion about her over 50 years of contribution to Rochester as an immigrant. The fact that we could share in her experiences and her memories was priceless. We fed her “food”; she fed us with her “spirit.”

“We fed her ‘food’; she fed us with her ‘spirit.’”

A thank you letter from the family of a 2022 college graduate and RJO scholarship recipient
“Dear friends at RJO, with sincere gratitude, we share this exciting news. As a recipient of the Nico Mundy Memorial scholarship through the Rochester Jamaican Organization, our daughter has successfully completed her college studies and will graduate on May 13th with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, recognized as a Dean Scholar. Words cannot express our gratitude to you for recognizing her abilities and contributing to this achievement and to her future endeavors. Thank you for being a part of her village.”

Support through a difficult journey
A first-year student at a local college attended one of our networking events for local college students. Shortly after, his counselor reached out asking if we knew of volunteer opportunities as it was a college requirement. He needed a paid internship as he could not financially afford an unpaid/volunteer opportunity. He lived with his older brother and mother in a one-bedroom apartment in Rochester and needed to contribute to the household income. A member of the organization facilitated a paid internship for him, and he was incredibly grateful. He eventually had to drop out of college for financial reasons. The organization kept in touch with him and encouraged him. An opportunity came up several months later, again through the organization, and he was hired in a role where his earnings were a little more than the total of the three jobs he was holding down simultaneously. We saw him this summer, and with tears in his eyes, he commented that we didn't know how close he was to giving up and that we had transformed his life.

What has it been like working with ESL?

ESL has been an excellent partner. ESL is sensitive to the barriers faced by certain sectors of our community and is intentional in identifying and partnering with organizations that have a track record of providing direct and impactful support to diverse populations.

What else do you think is important for people to know?

Our success is due, in large measure, to the partnerships and collaborations. The organization is managed entirely by volunteers. A nine-member advisory council comprised of highly qualified experts in our community helps to guide the work of the organization.

How can people get involved or help support your mission?

People can get involved by volunteering, sponsoring, and attending events such as our annual Independence Gala. Information about our organization can be found at