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Visit, Eat, and Live with a Purpose: The Rockhouse Foundation, Jamaica

The Rockhouse Hotel is one of Negril’s most prominent jewels. Situated on the West End of Negril, this hotel gives visitors a chance to be “local on arrival.”  The hotel is owned by a group of Australian investors and visionaries whose love of Jamaica was inspired by their own visits to the beautiful island.

A love of all things Jamaican inspired owner Paul Salmon and his partners to invest in both the Rockhouse Hotel and Miss Lily’s NYC.  However, they are not just hotel owners and restaurateurs. Paul Salmon and his partners have also found a highly impactful way to return dividends to the local community of Negril by way of the 501c(3) non-profit Rockhouse Foundation.

The Rockhouse Foundation was born out of a desire to give back to Jamaica. Salmon notes that their desire was to leverage the support of the Rockhouse Hotel to help fulfill the needs of the schools in the local area. The Rockhouse Foundation began when the owners of the Rockhouse hotel realized that schools within five to ten miles of their flourishing hotel were going without basic needs on a daily basis. Just up the road, a local school had been functioning without proper roofing. A mile away, the Negril Library had limited resources and was in desperate need of rehabilitation. Understanding that the workers at the hotel had children who attended these schools and who needed the library, the owners sough to establish a foundation that would not only allow them to give back, but would allow their guests to contribute to the growth of the schools in Negril. Thus, the Rockhouse Foundation was formed and has since established itself as a necessary and helpful tool to schools in Negril.

Upon arrival at the Rockhouse Hotel, guests are given the opportunity to be “local on arrival.” Each week, the hotel hosts a Manager’s Cocktail Hour, at which videos highlighting the work of the Foundation are shown. During the cocktail hour, the managers seek to create awareness and open the minds of the guests who may or may not be familiar with the local area.  As a result of this awareness campaign Salmon notes, “people know that when they stay at the Rockhouse Hotel, they are helping us make a positive impact” The Manager’s Cocktail Hour is strategically done on Wednesday nights because Thursday is “give back” day at the hotel. On Thursdays, the hotel schedules tours of local schools and the library and guests have the opportunity to not only view but to also participate in the ongoing projects sponsored by the hotel.  Guests have the opportunity to give back while enjoying the comfort and respite that Jamaican tourism has to offer.

Since the owners of the hotel operate several businesses, they are able to ensure that all of the funds they raise at their annual benefit along with a portion of all sales at Miss Lily’s restaurant, Push Cart Restaurant, and the Rockhouse Hotel go directly towards funding their projects.  The benefit of offering support to the local area is part of why the Rockhouse Hotel is so popular among locals and among tourists who want to visit with a purpose. The owners note that they are thrilled that they are able to impact the lives of their workers, their neighbors, and the children in the Negril area.

Since its inception in 2003, the Rockhouse Foundation has raised and spent over two million dollars in the Negril area, renovating schools, providing healthy lunches for children, building and renovating the local library, sponsoring and setting up computer labs at schools, and establishing a number of Early Childhood Education resources for the local schools. The foundation has the goal of “transforming the places where children learn and supporting the people who teach them.”  The sagacious leaders of this great foundation have sought to ensure that they support the economy of Jamaica by purchasing local goods, hiring local workers, and by building local coalitions to make a large impact in the area surrounding the Rockhouse Hotel.

The influence of Jamaican culture has caused these Australian natives to come to Jamaica and support the culture, the tourism industry, and the future of the island. Salmon notes that one “cannot he involved in Jamaican culture and not love it.”  Although Miss Lily’s restaurant is located in New York City, Salmon notes that while local schools in New York also need support, their main focus is on Jamaican schools because they have seen where “facilities have challenges like poor roofing, inadequate plumbing, and there are not ample books for the children at some Basic Schools in Negril.” The impact of their support to schools in Jamaica does not necessarily solve all the problems of education, but it certainly makes a fundamental difference if only in a small way. The support that is available for schools in the US is not always made available for small school in rural Jamaica, and the Rockhouse Foundation serves as one means by which schools can fill the gaps in funding and resources that are not provided by the government. The Foundation seeks to build partnerships with local schools to fulfill their mission in conjunction with those outlined by the Ministry of Eduction.

Many tourists visit the island each year and are unaware of where their money is spent. The Rockhouse Hotel gives visitors an opportunity to see how their funds impact the local community. The benefit of such a foundation is that visitors to the island understand that they are vacationing while contributing to a cause greater than themselves. Salmon notes that visitors, upon finding out about the Rockhouse Foundation, have returned with gifts for the schools and have even continued to support the Foundation through financial contributions. The Rockhouse Foundation is certainly a way for visitors to The Rockhouse Hotel and curious diners at New York’s Miss Lily’s Restaurant to visit Jamaica and eat Jamaican food with an impactful purpose.

*To learn more about how you can contribute to The Rockhouse Foundation, visit www.rockhousefoundation.org. View further information on the Rockhouse Foundation at Youtube. Join the Rockhouse Foundation’s mailing list and obtain further information by emailing [email protected] If you’re ever in NY and want to eat with a purpose, visit Miss Lily’s Restaurant www.misslilysnyc.com

About the author

Kerri-Ann M. Smith

Dr. Kerri-Ann M. Smith is an author and educator. She is an Assistant Professor of Academic Literacy at Queensborough Community College, CUNY. She is a patois translator, a wife, and the mother of a gregarious little girl. She is a senior writer for jamaicans.com.