Jacksonville Woman is Making a Difference in Jamaica

The Celebration of Life School in St. Catherine, Jamaica was constructed by Barbara Gilbert through FFP in July 2011.

COCONUT CREEK, Fla. (Feb. 1, 2012) — Life for several families is looking a lot brighter thanks to a dedicated donor by the name of Barbara Gilbert who raised funds to build a village for the destitute in St. Catherine, Jamaica, through Food For The Poor.  Barbara’s Village was completed in June of 2006 and was soon followed by the Ellerslie Gardens Soccer Complex. Now, Gilbert is working on raising funds for the completion of the Celebration of Life School and the Musical Band Youth Program.

Gilbert’s commitment to build a school in Jamaica began with her first mission trip with Food For The Poor nearly nine years ago.  With many visits to follow, it was on one of these trips in the summer of 2005 that Gilbert met a couple from Laramie, Wyo.  Rich and Mary Guenzel were very impressed with Gilbert’s passion to help the poor and recently decided to donate a $12,000 matching gift challenge for the second phase of the school’s building fund.

“God has blessed us with the resources to be able to contribute to Phase II,” said Rich Guenzel. “We have been following the progress on the fundraising for the Celebration of Life School and have remained in contact with Barbara since our first trip with her.”

Barbara Gilbert, 56, helps with the construction of the Celebration of Life School in St. Catherine, Jamaica.

The Guenzels became fast friends with Gilbert and traded many stories, including one about their 13-year-old nephew, Thomas Park, who was battling cancer. Touched by Thomas’ story, Gilbert reached out to the boy via email and the two of them became buddies through his hospital care page. On the day Thomas completed chemotherapy, Gilbert informed him that she had decided to name the school in Jamaica Celebration of Life School in his honor because this survival story was a celebration of life.

“We are very thankful that Thomas' tumor has disappeared and there are no current signs of his cancer. He is fortunate to have access to the specialized health care he required. Perhaps one of the students at Celebrations of Life will become a doctor and provide specialized health care to the poor in Jamaica,” said Guenzel.

“Never underestimate the power of what one passionate person can do,” said Angel Aloma, Executive Director of Food For The Poor. “Barbara has an exciting personality and an extremely big heart, what she’s doing in Jamaica is truly amazing, especially when you take into consideration that this is a woman of modest means.”

Gilbert who works as a waitress at Beach Diner, located in the Mandarin area of Jacksonville, isn’t modest when it comes to getting what she wants. It’s at the restaurant that this 56 year-old single mother of four earns much needed tips to fund her projects in Jamaica.  But, Gilbert isn’t just any waitress. In the spring of 2009, at age 54 she was accepted into the graduate program at Florida State University.  She earned her Master’s Degree in Social Work on December 17, 2011.

The new school has provided dozens of children ages 3 to 6 with a safe learning environment.

“It is never too late to earn an education. During my journey towards my degree, it was important for me as a social worker to advocate for education for the poor,” said Gilbert. “In my travels to Jamaica I have witnessed the passion the children have for learning. There are teachers, but not many school buildings.”

Gilbert will be celebrating her 57th birthday on Feb.18, which is also the target date to raise the total funds needed to complete the second phase of the Celebration of Life School in St. Catherine, Jamaica.  To help Barbara meet this challenge, donations will be matched dollar for dollar until the $23,280 goal is reached.

You can help Gilbert meet this challenge by visiting her Champions For The Poor page.

Food For The Poor, the largest international relief and development organization in the nation, does much more than feed millions of the hungry poor in 17 countries of the Caribbean and Latin America. This interdenominational Christian ministry provides emergency relief assistance, clean water, medicines, educational materials, homes, support for orphans and the aged, skills training and micro-enterprise development assistance, with more than 96 percent of all donations going directly to programs that help the poor.

For more information, please visit www.FoodForThePoor.org.

Wanda Wright
Food For The Poor
Public Relations
954-427-2222 x 6079