In late January, a 40-foot shipping container filled with a very special payload set sail for the Caribbean island of Jamaica, courtesy of the Knights of Columbus of Council 5295 in Narragansett, R.I.
The payload: $55,000 worth of new and gently used clothing, construction materials, building supplies and adult diapers destined for Jacob’s Ladder, an orphanage for adults with disabilities.
Jacob’s Ladder, part of the Mustard Seed Communities network, is situated on 150 hilly acres in rural Moneague, some 40 miles from the capital city of Kingston. It houses adult residents who are disabled and have been abandoned by their families — individuals who otherwise would be homeless and living on the streets. Presently, Jacob’s Ladder serves 100 permanent residents, but with future plans to house 400.
Each spring, the Narragansett Knights visit Jacob’s Ladder to assist with the construction and expansion of the facility. In preparation for this year’s visit, they arranged a donation drive to collect the necessary building materials along with clothing and other goods.
The drive was a major success. Over the course of the first three weeks of January, Council 5295 collected 3,100 pieces of adult clothing, some 11,750 adult diapers, and a large haul of building materials donated by Pariseault Builders in nearby Warwick. The shipping container was picked up from the parking lot of St. Thomas More Church in Narragansett to be transported to a ship in the Port of Newark and arrived at the Port of Kingston in early February.
Jacob’s Ladder, the only facility of its kind in Jamaica, is quite an undertaking. The residents operate three watershed systems that provide irrigation for an expanse of greenhouses, farmland, an orchard and a lumber forest covering more than 120 acres in all.
“We grow sweet potato, corn, sweet peppers, cho cho (a small green squash), yam cocoa, pineapple, escallion, pumpkin, calaloo, pak choy, scotch bonnet peppers and grass for animals,” said Deacon Paul Dunn, director of Jacob’s Ladder. The agro forestry system includes food trees such as naseberry, breadfruit and ackee along with the lumber trees.
“Excess produce is sold to staff members and the market,” Dunn said, “and [earnings] are used to purchase other goods and services we cannot provide for ourselves.”
In Jamaica, there are no governmental or private facilities to take care of individuals with mental and physical disabilities after they reach 18 years of age — hence the “adult orphanage” status.
Jacob’s Ladder turns away no one. Presently there are about 100 residents with physical or intellectual disabilities, with additional adults on a waiting list.
Mustard Seed Communities, the network which includes Jacob’s Ladder, was founded in 1978 by Msgr. Gregory Ramkissoon in response to the abandonment of children with disabilities on sidewalks, empty lots and in some cases, trash cans by families on the streets of Jamaica. Jacob’s Ladder is one of 13 residential care facilities operated by Mustard Seed in Jamaica, and Jamaica is among five nations served by the mission.
Larry DeMichele, program manager for Council 5295, was thrilled with the results of the drive to assist Jacob’s Ladder.
“The outpouring of support from the local community was unbelievable,” DeMichele said. “We were able to stuff a 40-foot-long shipping container with 19,277 pounds of collected items —truly unbelievable. We are very thankful for all of the support provided by everyone.”
GERALD KORSON, a veteran Catholic journalist, is a member of the Knights of Columbus in Indiana.
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Originally published in a special bi-weekly edition of Knightline, a resource for K of C leaders and members. To access Knightline’s monthly archives, click here.