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Inside Joe’s Pub in Lower Manhattan on Wednesday night, the ambiance felt like a new year’s eve celebration. The medium-size party space was bursting to the seam with a few hundred well-dressed revelers who were meeting and greeting each other, enthusiastically sharing stories of their travels to Negril, Jamaica. Some had been traveling to the Rockhouse, a picturesque and trendy boutique resort on Negril’s west end for decades, while others were new recruits. Based on their stories, they all are ecstatic about Jamaica, and their love for the island is a lifelong calling.

There were no visible signs nor markers of the trademark Jamaican black, green and gold colors anywhere. But behind the boisterous bacchanal, there was a profound sense of purpose in the room. Everyone knew they were there to contribute generously to the annual Rockhouse Foundation fundraiser, a well-oiled money machine that has already invested US$3 million in improving education for Negril’s young people.

Wednesday night’s event netted almost US$250,000 in under three hours through auctions and donations, and Peter Rose, president of the Rockhouse Foundation pointed out that the primary mission of the foundation over the next year is to build a special needs school in the Negril area.

“Through funding from the Rockhouse Foundation, work will begin shortly on the first special needs early childhood school in the area”, Rose told the gathering. “The school will be a unique center of excellence for regular learners and for children with special needs, and it will also be a center for training parents and teachers in assessing and managing students across the spectrum of special needs”, he added. Paul Salmon, chairman and co-founder of the foundation highlighted the fact that every cent raised for the event will go directly to the children of the Negril area, with no administrative deductions whatsoever.

The school, to be called the Torrington Inclusive Infant Academy, is expected to open in September 2016 and it is being established in partnership with the Ministry of Education and the Early Childhood Commission in Jamaica. Evelyn Walden-West, manager of Early Childhood Services from Jamaica was on hand to express appreciation for the generous offer and she pointed out that education minister Ronnie Thwaites is very pleased with the ongoing participation of the Rockhouse Foundation in education. The organization will underwrite and maintain the facilities, and staffing will be provided by the partners of the program.

Through its ongoing work in recent years, the foundation has also transformed and modernized five schools in the area- Moreland Hill Primary and Infant Schools, Negril All Age School, Negril Basic School, Little Bay All Age and Infant Schools and Bunch of Stars ECI. The foundation has also completely renovated and expanded the Negril Community Library.

After the auctions and donations were completed, attendees were treated to a sizzling live performance by reggae icon Lucciano.

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