The ribbon was cut by Honorary Olivia 'Babsy' Grange, Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture-Jamaica and Barbara Gilbert at the dedication ceremony on June 24, 2009.
This project was the vision of some soccer fans and a "soccer mom" in the beaches communities at Jacksonville, Florida. As the mother of 4 soccer players and the President of a local soccer booster club, Barbara Gilbert knew the impact of this sport in the lives of young people. Through World Cup she saw the unifying affect of this beautiful sport all over the world.
While touring Ellersie Gardens, one of the largest slum areas of Jamaica on a trip several years ago Ms. Gilbert witnessed people of all ages playing soccer, barefooted, with a torn ball, on a tiny field with ragged wooden soccer goals. She knew this was the site for the dream. Her vision was to give communities an alternative to violence, as this is often a very volatile area. In Jamaica, soccer is a sport the entire country is passionate about. The project was announced during an interview with Ms. Gilbert on CNN on June 27, 2006.
Donation boxes were set up at 3 beaches restaurants and a local bank took donations. The beaches community came together depositing their change in the boxes and $1000 was raised. As a graduation gift to Ms. Gilbert when she graduated from UNF, a donation of $25,000 was given by a very generous couple, the needed funds to build the soccer complex. Coach Mike, as Ms. Gilbert's son is known (yes, one of those 4 soccer players grew up to be a coach), began his own soccer ball drive. One of the goals was to get kids involved in giving to kids as they shared their love for this sport. His players came forward and donated their favorite balls, shoes, and equipment as a gift to the kids of Jamaica.
One day a man walked into the restaurant where Ms. Gilbert worked and donated a case of 60 brand new soccer balls. Two women who had been to Jamaica as missionaries brought in team uniforms for an entire team in the Jamaican colors. The soccer complex was dedicated on June 24, 2009, with Jamaican dignitaries, the major donors and soccer officials and players in attendance. The balls and uniforms were presented. The field will be on the level of their national stadium. The Sports Development Foundation provided funding for the security fencing that encompasses the complex. The Albion Football Club of Jamaica will manage the facility.
Through the power of this beautiful sport an entire community will be transformed. Over 1000 kids are already signed up to play on these fields. The average families who live in the shacks that border the complex have 5-7 kids who want to play also. Much equipment is needed. Ms. Gilbert took 350 balls for the dedication.
The first match played on this field was between 2 rival gangs. They dedicated the game to a young man killed the week before by the rival gang. On this day they laid down their guns and played soccer.