Jacksonville exec, employees bring Christmas to Jamaican children

Five years ago, Jacksonville home-building executive Greg Netro took a mission trip to Jamaica.

What he saw there — and the children he met — changed his life.

Netro later co-founded a Jacksonville-based nonprofit that, as soon as permits are approved, plans to build an orphanage in Jamaica for abandoned and abused children. Meanwhile he and his employees and other supporters make intermittent trips to Jamaica, the latest of which was in early December for a big Christmas party.

Netro, president of Toll Brothers’ Northeast Florida and Southeast Florida divisions, and about 40 employees who volunteered to join him headed to Chester, Jamaica. Each of them brought a suitcase full of items, from Barbie dolls and soccer balls to school supplies and toiletries. At a local all-ages school, they gave the gifts to about 100 children and also gave their time playing soccer and face painting with them, among other things.
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“Some of the children realize for the first time that they are important, loved and have value,” he said.

Netro and volunteers could not help but be touched as well.

“Some of the participants mentioned it was life changing,” he said. “Being a part of this experience is beyond rewarding. So often people see the things we do as helping the people in Jamaica, which is true. However, people do not readily see that the children and people of Jamaica probably have impacted me more than I might ever do for them.”

Ashley Auld, Toll Brothers Northeast Florida design studio manager, was part of Netro’s Christmas party crew.

“The children were absolutely precious and so full of love and gratitude,” she said. “There was an instant connection with each and every one of them that just filled my heart with happiness. It is a connection that makes me want to do more.”

There is plenty more to do.

After Netro’s initial visit to Jamaica five years ago, he and two other mission-trip members, Denise and Alex Pecci, pondered how to help existing orphanages. But they ultimately “decided the most effective, impactful way to make a difference would be to start and run our own organization,” Netro said.

They founded the Tiny Hope Children’s Home nonprofit, named after a Jamaican orphan they met called Tiny. To be built in phases on a 15-acre site near Chester, the children’s home will not only provide shelter, necessities, food and education for abandoned and abused children but employment for the community. The development plan budget totals $6.8 million, including a primary school, girls and boys homes, clinic and space for recreation, equestrian and aquaponics programs, as well as livestock, an orchard and solar field.
“My friends and I saw the need for support and resources, along with a lack of hope that the children had. We couldn’t walk away,” Netro said. “In the U.S., there is a path to success and prosperity. You go to school, work hard, get a job, buy a house and start a family. These children in Jamaica have no path.”

They have cleared land and built a driveway and are awaiting permitting to begin construction on the $1.4 million first phase, which will accommodate about 12 children, said Denise Pecci. When the full campus is completed, it will house about 80 children.

Many members of Netro’s Christmas crew became supporters of the children’s home project as well.

“I decided to get involved having seen the efforts early on and the sheer perseverance Greg and the other founders showed amidst all the challenges and setbacks,” Auld said. “It’s inspiring, uplifting and motivating. This trip to Jamaica took me to a new level of wanting to help. Seeing the property and meeting the children firsthand was life-changing.”

Meanwhile the toys are working magic.

After Netro’s group returned home, Pecci and 38 other volunteers went to Jamaica to distribute toys in other locations. A Jamaican pastor distributed some of the donated toys among two communities in Kingston that are “at war with each other” and together are the murder capital of the country, she said.

But the pastor and the toys brought them together.

“There has not been a single murder since,” Pecci said. After hearing that report from the pastor, she said, “We were in tears.”

“It’s not just … toys, it’s hope. Somebody thinking about them, somebody caring,” she said.
Beth Reese Cravey: (904) 359-4109
Tiny Hope Children’s Home

“There are three ways you can help Tiny Hope and the people of Jamaica. Pray, Go, Give … The directors and volunteers of Tiny Hope pay their own way so 100 percent of the funds donated go directly to the mission and people of Jamaica. You can do one or all three and every bit of it makes a difference.” – Greg Netro

To donate, go to tinyhope.org/donate or send a check to Tiny Hope Children’s Home, 4613 Philips Highway, Suite 207, Jacksonville, FL 32207. For more information, go to tinyhope.org or facebook.com/TinyHopeChildrensHome.