Annual JESS Gala Garners $50,000 for Cruz Bay Public School

Governor John P. deJongh, center right, was joined by local celebrity waiters, including Lt. Governor Gregory Francis, left, Julius E. Sprauve School principal Mario Francis, center left, and Caneel Bay Resort Managing Director Nikolay Hotze, right, at the annual Julius E. Sprauve School Fundraising Gala on Saturday night, April 10 at Caneel Bay Resort.

About 100 residents dressed to the nines enjoyed a night of laughter, dining and dancing while raising serious money for the Julius E. Sprauve School.

The 13th annual JESS gala, on Saturday night, April 10, at Caneel Bay Resort was themed “Building a Brighter Tomorrow by Caring, Nurturing and Educating Our Children.” The event raised about $50,000 for the St. John public elementary and middle school, according to JESS principal Mario Francis.

“Right now it’s abut $50,000 and counting,” Francis said last week. “We still have some folks who customarily donate and haven’t had a chance to do so yet. So we think that number is going to continue to rise.”


Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center physician Dr. Joseph DeJames kept the crowd in stitches as the master of ceremonies for the night.


After enjoying cocktails on the terrace, the crowd filtered in to the beach-front dining room to be served a first course by celebrity waiters including Lieutenant Governor Gregory Francis, Senator at Large Craig Barshinger, St. John Administrator Leona Smith and Caneel Bay Resort managing director Nikolay Hotze.

While arriving a bit too late to serve the salad course, Governor John deJongh did attend the gala and took time out to say hello to many people in the crowd.

Gala attendees were impressed with JESS students who took center stage during the gala, the first of whom was Aleek Thomas who told the audience what makes his school so special.

“The teachers really care about you,” said Thomas. “They are always after you to do well and keep studying.”

Joined by his fellow student musicians, Thomas and the JESS band performed to the delight of the crowd. Several members of the elementary choir sang a musical selection followed by the very impressive secondary choir.

JESS alumni Javon Venzen, at right, and Syvannah Lyons-Anthony, center, pose with the JESS Band.

JESS alumni and current Charlotte Amalie High School students Javon Venzen and Savannah Lyons-Anthony then took the microphone and recited poems to the delight of all.

“Everyone loved having the students take part in the gala this year,” said Francis. “That was definitely a plus and something we are definitely going to do more of.”

The annual gala followed a different format this year with a cash bar and a buffet-style dinner, about which Francis heard mixed reviews, he explained.

“The night was a fabulous success,” said the JESS principal. “We tried something different with the buffet and we had mixed reviews. Some folks liked being able to select what they wanted instead of being served a plate of food and others didn’t enjoy it so much.”

During and after dinner, the crowd was delighted by live music from Steven Payne’s Jammers HP, which included an entertaining lead singer who tipped his very talented hat to Michael Jackson.

With live and silent auctions and numerous raffles up for grabs, many members of the audience went home with exciting prizes. None perhaps more so than Roger Harland, broker and owner of Tropical Properties, Inc., who offered the winning bid for dinner with Governor John deJongh at Caneel Bay’s inimitable Turtle Bay Estate House wine room.

The funds raised at the gala this year have been earmarked for purchasing and installing a new electronic marquee for the school, retrofitting the school gym, constructing a playground for the elementary school and establishing an annual scholarship fund, according to Francis.

While last year’s funds garnered from the 12th annual gala have yet to be spent, the school is working toward issuing requests for proposals to upgrade the kitchen, Francis previously told St. John Tradewinds.

“Work on the kitchen improvements is on-going,” Francis said. “We do hope to get started on that soon.”
The JESS fundraising gala committee extended thanks to all its supporters especially to major sponsor Caneel Bay Resort, Francis added.