‘Deer’ to her heart Reggae Girlz crusader brings message home, vows to stay on the ball

TO some, she may be seen as a voice crying out in the wilderness.

But don’t tell that to Lavern Deer, the crusader for Jamaica’s women’s football, who thinks her sermon to rally support is hitting the target in some quarters.

To say her mission to rally financial and other vital support for the Reggae Girlz has been one without challenges would be a straight-face lie.

Deer, a Jamaican living in Florida and who has been involved in diaspora activism for some time, has been knocking, and though the door has been slamme in her face many times, she keeps pounding.

Hers is an unshakeable spirit and passion for a cause ‘Deer to her heart’ and quitting, she says—  after one year of intense campaigning for awareness and support — is no longer an option.

“I started this venture exactly one year ago March 2012, and many times I have thought about throwing in the towel, but each time that thought appears something or some circumstance makes me realise that I am closer to the finish line and it’s too late to turn back,” said Deer, who holds degrees in health care and business administration.

An example of her determination and ability to organise around her cause was on show when she spearheaded an awareness conference for Jamaica International Female Football Development Inc (JIFFD), an organisation set up to manage the fund-raiser portfolio and general welfare of girls’ development.

At that conference at the Sheraton Suites in Plantation, Florida, on February 15, she pulled together an impressive array of city and state officials, Congressional representation, representatives from corporate America, Jamaica government officials and leading figures in Jamaica’s football.

Representing the government of Jamaica at the formal event was minister with responsibility for sport Natalie Neita-Headley, and the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) had its president, Captain Horace Burrell, and chairwoman of the JFF Women’s Committee, Elaine Walker-Brown, and co-ordinator of the women’s programme, Vin Blaine.

With such an audience, Deer and her south Florida-based associates preached their gospel, and if the response was anything to go by, it would appear that salvation for the cash-strapped Reggae Girlz could be around the corner.

“That awareness conference was a success, since then parents have contacted me because they heard of the Reggae Girlz awareness and want to help, and even hope to see their girl one day representing the Jamaican pride in a World Cup. Also, more organisations are getting involved to support youth development, particularly young girls in football. The JIFFD planning team did an excellent job,” Deer told the Sunday Observer on a recent visit to Jamaica.

As encouraging as that function was, the challenges in pursuit of JIFFD’s goals remain present and real.

“The biggest challenge I have faced thus far is convincing some groups that it’s ok to support women’s football. I realise that while selling the product to the potential sponsors, I find also that I have to convince the local community, hoping to pierce behind the traditional stigma of women in sports,” Deer noted.

Though not representing them at this time, the tireless employee of Broward County Government where she functions as the chief administrator for the commissioner’s office, said her trip to Jamaica to further sensitise interest groups and shore up other support was a relative success.

“Yes, I am satisfied and I can truly say I’ve achieved what I came to accomplish from this visit and more. I wouldn’t say this is a waste of time or money, the purpose of this trip was to introduce the JIFFD programme to as many stakeholders as possible. Each individual I’ve met with loves the presentation and is willing to further discuss the issues and there were some verbal commitments made,” Deer said.

On the short trip to the island, Deer held a meeting with officers of the Cockburn Gardens Primary & Junior High School as part of JIFFD Education Initiative. “The school currently doesn’t have a girls football programme, but their programmes and mission statement align with JIFFD’s holistic approach, (and) they understand that sports is a channel to get students to comprehend by applying team work,” Deer explained.

Also, she met with Trelawny Parish Council officials, including Mayor Garth Wilkinson, Custos Paul Muschett and the local business sector in the parish to explore her organisation’s development side, and the group was receptive to her stirring presentation.

“We discussed Lauderhill and Falmouth Sister City programme in relation to community development. We all are in agreement that a development programme will help enhance the community growth and development,” Deer stated.

In her efforts to expand JIFFD’s support network, she had a meeting with Jamaica National Building Society to explore the possibilities of forging a working link.

“I introduced the programme to JN assistant marketing manager Stephanie Lugg and we agreed that programme development is vital to the community and country, and as part of that, we (JIFFD) have conceptualised exciting ways to generate more interest in the women’s game, which in turn we hope will spur people to support matches and other related events at the local level,” she went on.

Deer revealed that her colleague Anthony March has been by her side all the way, and it was his input that laid the platform for the range of successful meetings on the island.

“He has been working with me since the onset of this movement, he travelled to Jamaica prior to my visit and had several meetings then accompanied me to some of the planned meetings,” she ended.

President of JIFFD, Lavern Deer, (second right) poses with (from left) chairwoman of the JFF Women’s Committee Elaine Walker-Brown, Mayor of Falmouth Garth Wilkinson, and Trelawny football boss Linnel McLean at the Trelawny Parish Council offices on Wednesday.Under-20 Reggae Girlz Marlo Sweatman (left) and teammate Shenika Williams juggle the ball during a training session last year.

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