June 2006 Barbara's Village opens in St. Catherines, Jamaica (by Spanish Town)
This was the vision of one woman, a single mother of 4 and waitress, who at the time was working 3 jobs and going to college. After hearing a telethon about the needs of the poor of Jamaica, specifically housing, Barbara Gilbert decided to donate a house, making monthly payments out of her tips. A year later she went on a pilgrimage to Jamaica with Food for the Poor to see where her money was going. On this trip a seed was planted. Barbara fell in love with the poor. She committed to building a house a year out of her personal funds. Father Paul Wilderotter, the priest leading the pilgrimage, forecast she would build a village to be named Barbara's Village. He predicted when she returned home, she would tell the stories of the poor of Jamaica and people would want to get involved.
Well, Barbara did tell the stories and people joined her cause to change the lives of the poor in Jamaica. A change box was placed at the register where she worked and customers began to donate. One customer gave Barbara a $1000 tip and another put a check for $2000 in the box for Barbaras Village. A local club sponsored a concert and fundraiser for the cause. A newspaper reporter and several local TV stations reported her story and the beaches community and citizens of Jacksonville, Florida got involved. The Alumni magazine at her college, UNF, did a feature story and one alumni bought an entire house. From day care schools to senior citizens, ordinary people got involved.
June 2006, Barbara's Village officially opened and in Jamaica. People walked for miles to the middle of a sugar cane field to witness this event. These were the first houses built with kitchens and indoor plumbing. Barbara was there to tell them, "You are my family. Your burdens are my burdens." She told them the stories of the many people who had joined together to make this community and their new homes a reality. Barbara's lifetime goal was to build 50 units. In December 2008, the 50th unit was paid for by a bartender who had met Barbara on a pilgrimage to Jamaica and had saved his tips for a year to buy a house. This house building mission has become a lifetime commitment as Barbara continues to raise money for housing, one family at a time, one house at a time.
Barbara recently paid for her 4th house out of her personal funds, marking the 85th unit in the Barbara's Village Too project. Barbara travels to Jamaica each year in June to give love and hugs to the poor. On this year's trip, the residents of the village surprised her with a 3 year anniversary celebration with music, poems, and food. They presented her with a painting and in their speech stated they wanted her to know this had become a community of love and peace where people supported each other and lived in harmony. You see these people were all complete strangers living in horrific conditions all over Jamaica and they all received a gift of hope-a home of their own in June 2006. For these families no one for generations had ever had a home. This is a project of hope, giving families a key to the future.