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JamaicaSometimes, life comes at you fast. Opportunities can fly by and you regret not grabbing them when you had the chance. Well, I have NO REGRETS, because when the opportunity came up to go to Jamaica to help build a school for underprivileged children, I grabbed it!

I had no idea when I made another visit to Sir Richard Branson’s Necker Island this winter, I would end up in Jamaica. An organization called Helping Hands Jamaica asked me several times to come on as a volunteer to help build schools for children. So, I decided to go, without knowing exactly where I was going, how many people were coming or whether it was safe. I ended up taking a red-eye from Los Angeles to Jamaica, in-between my Dental Hygiene Board Review seminars. I arrived on my own with no sleep, but certain that others would start arriving soon.

I took a leap (it IS Leap Year) to Jamaica, which may have come from living out the Capitalism 24902 mission. Last year, Richard made DentalPost and other companies part of the Capitalism 24902 movement. It’s named for the number of miles that make up the circumference of the earth. The goal of Capitalism 24902 is to make business a force for good. Richard specifically challenges us to figure out how we can help young people around the world have a positive future.

Children in Jamaica need hope for their future. Because of the high poverty on the island, kids end up in gangs or in child labor. Others beg or sell trinkets in the streets. Because about 73,000 children are orphans, some children become heads of households when they’re very young. Others go into institutions. Still others are abused because there’s no one to care for them.

Well, building a school won’t solve all the problems of Jamaica’s poor children, but its at least a start for some of them to use education to identify possible ways out of poverty. Helping Hands Jamaica Foundation has built 11 schools in Jamaica. This time, the group was partnering with a very familiar face.

Serena Williams’ Foundation paid for the school we built. Her group works to help children around the world get access to education, so it was a great partnership. And there she was, grabbing a hammer and helping put the school up with the rest of us. Before Serena became famous, she spent part of her childhood in Compton, California, where her half-sister was killed. So she has a special motivation to do good for others.

Our hosts were Sally Henzell and her son Jason Henzell. They transformed one of Jamaica’s oldest homes into a fun, welcoming party venue with bright string lights and a DJ. It was an exhausting three days, but their hospitality was warm and re-energizing.

Volunteers from the U.S. and Canada came together for this incredible school build. Shane Carter was one of them. He was born in Jamaica and now lives in Toronto with his family and works for Sony Music. Bruce Chin  who was the steady, logical guy in our group  also has roots in Jamaica, but his family moved because of the violence that was so prevalent. Ted Manziaris, who owns the bottled water company GP8, also came down from Toronto to lend a hand. Seeing the bond between these friends  the way they worked together, their dedication to helping kids who really need it  was humbling.

These people have found what they love to do, whether its real estate, tennis, apparel, music, movies or business. It was inspiring to see that, despite challenges or pain, they have endured and now they are working to make an impact on the world… even one little corner of it at Salt Marsh School in Jamaica.

The children were so happy. They have nothing like what we have in America, yet they are some of the happiest kids I have ever seen. These sweet kids wanted to hug you, touch you and be near you. The friendships and bonds that were created  among both the children and the volunteers  was humbling.

It was an experience I wouldn’t have missed. It taught me that sometimes you just have to go with the flow and take a chance. Take a leap! The payoff in this case, was tremendous.

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