JAMAICA UPDATE AND THANK YOU!

As you probably know by now, I’ve been collecting donations of gently used running shoes and gear as well as monetary donations for the student athletes at Rhodes Hall High School in Hanover, Jamaica, since I returned from my trip. I wrote a story about the students that was published on this blog and also on Women’s Running Magazine’s blog. Since so many of you have sent money and gear, I thought you might want to know how the kids are doing in their meets so far this season and how the campaign itself is going!

Since hatching the campaign in mid-December, I’ve mostly felt one thing – serious anxiety. I just wanted to find a way to help these kids, who love running even more than I do, but it’s a big responsibility. I didn’t want to make a promise that I couldn’t keep, but ultimately, I didn’t really know how the campaign would go. Would people really care enough about kids in another country to take the time to go through their race shirts and shoes, pack them up and mail them to me? Would people be moved enough to make a monetary donation if they didn’t have any spare gear? I didn’t have the answers to those questions at first, but now, the answer is a resounding YES! And I cannot thank all of you enough.

To date, the GoFundMe campaign has raised $1,645 for the students at Rhodes Hall High School! I have received boxes of new and gently used running clothes most days of the week for the past few weeks – sometimes as many as 6 at once! The ever-awesome Qore Performance is working with two local partners in Washington D.C. to collect donations in exchange for coupons off their products, too! So I’ve got quite an organizational system going on in our spare room right now.

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Pretty good mail day if you ask me!

One of the things that several people have asked me about is shipping. How am I going to get all of this stuff down to Jamaica? Well, I thought that the answer was that I was just going to pay whatever it cost to mail it down via the U.S. Postal Service as my way of donating to the cause. Then I saw how much that was going to cost based on the volume of stuff I have received so far, and we’re talking several thousand dollars! I knew there had to be a better way, though, and started researching. I reached out to the Jamaica Tourism Board, shipping companies, friends, charities, and friends of friends and discovered that the easiest and cheapest way to ship things in bulk to the Caribbean is by the barrel. Yes, literally, by the barrel.

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The first of several barrels I’ll be sending to Jamaica! The water bottle is included for scale.

The barrels will be picked up on a truck and then taken down to the port of Charleston, then loaded onto a cargo boat and shipped to Jamaica. Thankfully, the Jamaica Tourism Board is helping me work out the taxes and tariffs since it is a charitable donation! Strangely enough, this process costs only about $150 per barrel (including the cost of the barrel) and there is no weight limit, so you better believe I’ll be jamming stuff in each one! Anyway, I’m really relieved to have a much more economical solution. The first barrel will be shipping out at the beginning of February!

I’ve been communicating almost daily with Coach Parchment, the 27-year-old dynamo at the head of the Rhodes Hall High School track team. I like to keep him posted on how the effort is going, and he sends me updates from the kids about their training and how their meets are going! Right now is track and field season, so the kids have meets nearly every weekend in an attempt to qualify for Nationals. In their first meet of the season, approximately 15 students finished  in the top 3 positions of their heat, and 14 of the students attained the A standard for the National Boys and Girls Championship!

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I do not look like this when I try to jump over anything.

Coach Parchment sent me some pictures of the kids who were able to compete, and it was so obvious to me how much he loves these kids. He also told me the story of why he started purchasing uniforms and gear for the kids in the first place: “The new jerseys are what I had managed to purchase….. and they look so uniform and that makes me feel so good. I know for a fact that my students were a bit intimidated by other schools when they go to meets and are not as uniformed as the others. One of my students said to me once, “Sir, why we look like the worst”? and that was what really got to me and so I decided to make the necessary sacrifices so that whenever my students go into a meet, they feel like they belong. Can you imagine when they get better shoes and more gear we may very well be a major contender for champs.”

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Some of the Rhodes Hall winners!

Right now, not all of the students who want to compete are able to (typically, only the oldest or most talented students are able) because there are not enough uniforms and gear to go around, but that’s where you all are coming in! The first wire transfer was sent to team last week and should arrive in time to purchase more uniforms so that more students can compete in the regional championships!

On the sidelines for now, but not for long!

The kids have been so touched by all of your generosity and are using your faith in them as motivation to work even harder this season. Every time I get an email from Coach Parchment (which is usually right after I’ve been freaking out about trying to reach our fundraising goal or how to get everything to Jamaica, ironically enough), I’m reminded of why I decided to start this campaign in the first place: “The kids talk about you quite often and use making you proud as one of their motivations when they are training. Rodene said “Sir, I am going to work hard so that the lady that is helping us will be proud of her hard work!” I really really can’t thank you enough for your help and cant wait to share their success with you.

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I’m pretty sure they’re working harder than me!

I love knowing that these kids are working hard and going after their dreams and are encouraged by how many people, even far away, truly believe in them and what they are doing! I share with Coach Parchment often about all the support, love, and kind comments I receive from you all, and he is blown away. So, this post is mostly just to say thank you from Coach Parchment, the kids, and I! The donations you have provided and continue to provide are changing the lives of not only the current team, but also years of future Rhodes Hall High School runners.

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One of the student athletes wears gear purchased by Coach Parchment, on the left!

I am continuing to accept donations of gently used running shoes, clothing, and gear (including accessories like water bottles, hats, etc) through February 15 at the following address: Danielle Cemprola, PO Box 26101, Greenville, SC 29616. Monetary donations can be made at the team’s GoFundMe page – all money donated is going straight to the team to purchase uniforms and gear! Please help us reach our current goal of $2,000 – thank you, thank you, thank you again!

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