July 2012 Volume 9

Behind the Scenes of the Choir’s Washington, DC Trip

Noel Spencer, MBA, LUTCF, EA
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Noel Spencer led the fundraising effort to help cover the choir's expenses

I have patched together as best as possible my notes. I kept notes as to who gave contributions over the period of March 19th, 2012 to May 2nd, 2012. Mr. Norman Scott was kind enough to receive my sometimes daily calls. Norman thanks for been courteous in your deliberations with me.

I personally made a contribution close to US$3,100 (including wire fees) directly to the KC Choir on or around March 9th, 2012.  The contribution was important to ensure that the 20 choristers who could not afford the fees for the passport and visa would not have a problem to travel. I am still beaming with pride how these young men sang with beautiful strength and such happiness. I made a further contribution on May 2nd, 2012 of US$1,400 to ensure that the check delivered to the bus company would be secure. Mr. Hector Hall of the Choir reimbursed me US$400 the following day.

My wife went to Sam's Club and bought groceries and snacks for all 30 choristers, so that they would not be hungry after the long days at the Cathedral. Other than the checks I handled for the Choir account and my personal contributions - I made my best effort in creating a spreadsheet, my wife personally packed each of the 10 bags - equally distributing Pop-tarts, crackers, potato chips, cereals, ice pops, etc.

Assemblyman Nick Perry on his way home from Albany, NY, got off the New York State Thruway at exit 16 and met with me to present a check for US$400 for the Choir. A couple of my clients saw the flyer in my office and collectively donated over US$300. The St. Jago High Alumni Association extended their resources and found a token contribution which was well needed in covering the gap. When things looked desperate at the end - I called Luther White at his job, at home and on his cell phone begging him to contribute - he stepped up with a mighty US$500.

Although Canada is not part of my report, how can I forget the joy that swept over me in the midst of the storm of negativity that they were bringing C$2,000 to Jamaica? That donation lifted my spirits and gave me the energy to continue. That energy became contagious - Hector became like a brother, Gary was speaking to me daily, Gary's mother was searching for donors, the Mustard Seed board started looking for donors too. The Northeast Diaspora planned to design a website. UJAA sent out an appeal. The word went out.

Thanks to all the KC helpers. The KCOBANY created a Choir link on their web site with Paypal. The Atlanta old boys went to work also.

Additionally, I reached out to loyal Fortisians-Luther White, Bobby Dixon, and Bobby DeSouza- to contribute when it was most critical. Bobby Dixon donated an important US$280 that guaranteed that the choir would have appointments with the US Embassy and the Passport office. That was a fee that the travel agency demanded and was not covered by any of the plans. Without the US$280 my contribution is naught.

Mr. Bobby DeSouza- he went to KC - was received a call from me while he was at Champs for a contribution towards the blazer.  He met Hector and donated $210 on the spot.  KCOBA NY Chapter made a submission of US$2500, but we were still short. Dr. Aarons in Jamaica and another old boy residing in Jamaica (sorry I am drawing a blank because I know you) made additional contributions to get us to the US$3070 mark.

The greatest moment during the period was at the point of desperation when I had a feeling we might not make the budgeted amount. Cheryl at the Embassy is cautiously saying we may not have the transportation money to hire the bus. Two things happened: Chris stepped in and said he can find a bus at a lower price than the US$7,500.  He got the bus for US$3,350.

I called Hector with the good news, but we were still short. I suggested that I would fund another US$1,000 but instead of just cash donations give me in turn 100 CDs so that I may have an opportunity to start a Choir replenishment program. Both he and Dr. Wan agreed. Then the great news from Dr. Wan and Hector: Prof Vasciannie and the KC board agreed to fund the trip with a grant of J$500,000. Stress was lifted from my system, my blood pressure declined to normalcy -you could hear joy in Dr. Wan's email. Mrs. Hall the Vice Principal who made the appeal to the Board was overjoyed with happiness. I knew then we were now close to the budgeted amount. Thank you KC, board of Governors.

Boy everything was so close in the funding. We had to cut afternoon snacks from the menu for the boys because the Embassy did not have any funds to pay the bus driver. So our budget for food was slashed on the Wednesday night to ensure we had funds to cover the bus. It showed in the young men during the Friday afternoon performance when there was no food for them. Two felt faint just before the 3:30 pm performance and had to be removed from the group. Audley did it so smoothly. It's a good thing that he knows his charges. Audley made an appeal to the Embassy that the boys needed at least a cup of soup for Saturday between the 1:30 pm and 3:00 pm performance. The Embassy listened -Cherryl made the order - The soup was delivered by Negril. Thank you.

Dr. Robert Wan, Mr. Chris Hunt, the members of the Choir, and Mr. Hall on behalf of the Choir Committee came up with a total of US$400 as a tip to the driver of the bus. I cannot say how thoughtful the bus driver was during the entire tour. He went out of the designated route to assure that the touring party saw the White House and other landmarks in Washington, DC without asking for extra. He literally threw the schedule out the window and did whatever we asked. It was not me asking but the ultimate negotiator and commander, Mr. Christopher Hunt.

Mr. Christopher Hunt the resident Old Boy did a yeoman's task of ensuring that everything was right for the trip. Chris was prepared and ready, from the moment I touched the Maryland border Chris was making sure that my drive into the DC area was going according to plan. He was there to meet me at the hotel and relieve me of the task of getting the check to the bus company. Without that check in hand there would not have been a bus. Chris had 15 minutes to spare from my arrival at the hotel, to get the check to the bus driver (owner of Maryland Bus Company).

The next great contributor was Mr. Lloyd Anderson who was my neighbor back in Meadowbrook, Jamaica. As the American Airlines jet landed in DC, Lloyd led the official USA welcoming party for the Choir; the Jamaica Embassy Charge D'Affairs was also on hand to assist. Boy, we surely needed her there (Ms. Cherryl Gordon). She relieved the tension at the airport since one of the traveling choristers was detained in Miami regarding a passport issue.

Back to Lloyd: Lloyd was on hand every day from early Wednesday to late Wednesday night, as was Christopher. On Thursday both were at the Cathedral at the Welcome Reception. I booked a suite at the same Hotel as the Choir from Wednesday to Sunday morning. All three of us were on hand to assist with anything. What a team. I took a part of the group shopping on Thursday afternoon. Chris and Lloyd took the other parts of the group on Friday and Saturday.

Whenever someone missed the bus, Chris would be the one to get his car and drive them to the Cathedral or the Hotel. Note that Chris lived some 40 miles away and was doing the commute sometimes twice a day. He would leave us after making sure everyone was at the Cathedral, go to work and then be back at the hotel in the evening.

Lloyd would appear on Friday, Sunday, Saturday, Thursday evening.

Dr. Robert Wan flew in from Jamaica via NY on Thursday. He became the unofficial official. When parents had concerns - Dr. Wan just said, " No problem: Noel get your car; drive the parents to the Church;" "But sir, we have no pass." Wan said "send them to me if there are any questions. All the parents got into the premier events "Jamaica free".

The Hon. Teddy McCook appeared at the Premier Reception in a blazing Purple and white jacket( I want one like that), official KCOBA tie and his beautiful daughter, Debay. Never knew Teddy had all these beautiful daughters until last month (eh!!). Our Teddy was easily recognized as our Star Jamaican Representative from the JAAA. People were coming up to him from all corners - former athletes, etc. Teddy was also at the Washington, DC old boys' dinner reception.

What a reception thrown by Chris and the team: Not sure if I can remember all the persons; butthere was Chris, Lloydie Anderson, Rat Smith from the 1970 Manning Cup side, another Smith, How to Kill a Mocking Bird " Evering" otherwise called ______. There were many more that I can't remember at this time. Evering became the toast of the evening to the young men. He told these young men the trouble he created while at KC, but now he is a prominent engineer. Bo said, don't look at my dreadlocks and think I man don't have sense, we were all rolling in laughter.

The young men from Kingston College brought Washington, DC and the Virginian Suites Hotel to their feet. Our 30 plus Fortisians were so well behaved and mannerly. They were smart, bright and sharp each one of them. Kudos to the he teachers, Mrs. M. Hall, accompanist Ms. Ann McNamee Ms. Gordon plus Hector Hall the man who kept everything going.

What a task Hector had as Manager of the Choir. His son is a member of the Choir; his wife is a Vice Principal of KC. He not only had to respond to his family and wife at the same time, but be responsible for everything. And I say everything. "Whe the money de -Hector hav it." "What time is the bus coming? Ask Hector. Can the other Jamaicans come on the bus, ask Hector."  I hear rumor say "Hector nah answer the US cell phone -wha him bother have it for!!" Hector kept his cool under severe pressure from all quarters.

One incident: Hector and the choirs arrive at the hotel for check-in. The front desk person asks, "o you are the KC group checking in" "Yes!" "So, Mr. Hall, do you have a check for us?" KC and Hector not responsible for paying for the rooms, but it became another Hector issue to solve. Everybody got their rooms without paying for them. The Embassy was not there to solve the nightmare, but Hector solved the issue. He was first and last to do everything. Kudos and much praises to the young man and his lovely family.

By the way, the hotel was paid for Friday or Saturday. On Thursday night we sat around - Dr. Wan, Hector, Lloyd Anderson, Chris, and I - trying to figure out how to solve the hotel bill problem. Dr. Wan looked at me and said, "Noel can you raise US$6,000 in the next day?" I said, "We should pack our bags Saturday morning and act as if we are coming back later, because this can be embarrassing if the bill is not paid." Lloydie said he had to leave now because he has a long trip ahead of him - we all started to laugh. Good fun and merriment.

Another incident: The audio man was turning off the audio every time the choir started to sing, but turn the audio on when other choirs performed. Again it was Hector who went over and draped up the man to let him know say this "kan't go on." What a blessing KC and the choir have in Hector Hall.

Other notables dropped in; Bobby Dixon and wife Ingrid drove in for Friday from New York. Donald Morris jumped on Amtrak Saturday morning to witness the lunchtime and afternoon recitals. Robert Shaw appeared on Saturday afternoon. There were old boys from the 1940's, 1950's, and onwards wearing everything that looked like purple - proud of their school. Little old ladies who left Jamaica from in the 1940's were seated with their granddaughters to witness the Choir.

Man such a rush, it was hard to stay on top of the excitement. We sold CD's; persons were complimenting the boys in the Blazers on Thursday and Friday. They changed over to the Atlanta donated Polo shirts -more compliments - people wanted to buy the Polo shirts-none available.

Families were commenting on the great behavior of our charges. The owners of Half Moon Hotel in Montego Bay (they live in Maryland) were there. They are very interested in getting a budding arrangement for the Choir to be added to their list of performers. The Drummers (Aw something - my apology) assisted us with music and made the performances even more entertaining.

We had three Jamaican Restaurants catering to our needs: Negril from the Embassy. 876 Cafe for our lunches and Dinner and the third was supplied by the KC Contingent in DC for the Friday night dinner. She won the best meal prize in my book. At this point let me thank the NE Diaspora: Patrick Beckford and Dorothy Hall. Dorothy put me in touch with Patrick. Patrick convinced Ms. Moreen of 876 to give discount to us and cater the lunch and evening meals. Moreen (a Jamaican) did everything: she met the team as they disembarked from the plane and arrived at the hotel with a hearty brunch without getting a red cent at that time. The Choir checking account was in the red after making that check out to the Bus Company. Moreen took a post dated check and continued with her service. We loved her enthusiasm and her team.

Dorothy Hall assisted me in designing a flyer for the soliciting part of the mission. Overall almost US$21,000 came in from Jamaica, Canada, and the USA. The Jamaican Embassy paid for the airline tickets and the Hotel.

Lastly, the choir director Audley Davidson was magnificent. He kept the boys at their best throughout from Wednesday evening at the Jamaican Embassy, Thursday evening at the Premier launching (never seen so much wealth in one place yet), Friday morning under difficult audio, Lunch time Friday and Friday afternoon. The Friday night dinner-not easily forgotten -the best ever dinner I can remember with the KC family. Thanks people.

In closing, I thank each and every one that helped me go the entire distance with the historic tour of Washington DC by the Kingston College Chapel Choir. I thank the contributors, without your generosity this would have been difficult or embarrassing. Let me says thanks to Hon. Ossie Harding for making the suggestion to his wife Marigold Harding, Custos of St. Andrew to include the choir in the Flower Mart. Ossie is a KC old boy. The Jamaican Embassy under Cherryl Gordon and staff - surely did a fantastic job under trying conditions - Cherryl was also chief cook and bottle washer for every part of the affair - not only for KC, but the drummers, the Flower Mart, the Cathedral, the Custos of St. Andrew, the Drummers, the Jamaican Violinist, the Jamaican craft persons, painters, exhibitors, name it she was the liaison.

 Let me pour my heart out to the persons who kept me going throughout this period: my wife Patricia Miller-Spencer who stepped up with suggestions in the planning; Dr. Gary Hall, a lightning rod of support when the critics came to bloom; Dr. Robert Wan, a master at staying cool under all circumstances. And of course, Hector Hall - we spoke sometimes three times a day or more. His wife Marguerita Hall, her continued words of wisdom kept me going and not departing from the task. Donald Morris - who would call once a week and reminded me of the things I am doing; how to ignore the negatives and use them as a challenge.

Glen Laman from Atlanta gave great suggestions. When Glen saw that I was going to underwrite the Polo shirts also, he just said, "Noel, give it to Atlanta." Thanks, Glen; your actions proved that you are most worthy. I appreciate the friendships gained over the past months. And my mentor - Audley Hewitt - calm is the word, "keep on going Noel", we appreciate you for your efforts. Chris Hunt who knew exactly how to be the link man (a football term). Chris knew precisely when to take the game under control. He showed his leadership skills in DC. Chris should create a video on working the flanks for non-profit ventures.

Not to be overlooked, let me say thanks to the President of the New York Chapter of the Kingston College Old Boys Association (USA), Inc., Rainford 'Perry' Bloomfield for entrusting me with a major challenge. I appreciate the opportunity you offered and this too shall be remembered for the rest of my life. I do not think we would have dreamed that so much could be accomplished in such a short time.

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