By Kimberly Denney
SPECIAL TO THE SUN-SENTINEL
The sound of steel drums wafted outside the auditorium of Plantation's Volunteer Park, where children were playing and laughing.
"If you close your eyes, it almost feels like you could be on a beach in the Caribbean, "said Julie Katz of Pompano Beach. That mood set the stage for last month's"Caribbean Night 2001," sponsored by the Caribbean American National Foundation of Florida.
Cleopatra Mills, who brought her family with her from Pembroke Pines, enjoyed the entertainment. "I heard about the event through a friend, and wanted to support the cause, " she said.
The foundation focuses on cultural learning forums and civic awareness, specifically Caribbean issues, as well as teen pregnancy prevention, drug and alcohol abuse counseling and AIDS
And it was a true community effort. Tanya Ragbeer of Southwest Ranches works for Bank United, one of the event's sponsors. She knew her co-worker Eddy Martinez of Lauderhill, was part of a duo called A Touch of Steel, and asked him to play the steel drums for the event. Eddy said he was more than happy to lend his talents, as well as those of partner Vern Julian, of Coral Springs.
While the steel drums played, people sat around the many tables socializing with each other while children practiced dance routines. After a Caribbean-style dinner of jerk chicken, rice and peas,
cabbage vegetable and festival - a type of fritter/dumpling - it was time for more entertainment. young Jamaicans took the stage, singing, dancing and performing acrobatics to the cheers of the
Britney Miller, 10, Jasmine Joan, 5, and Kay-Ann Hermitt, 10, all friends from Fort Lauderdale, couldn't wait to get onstage. "We perform around once a week, " Britney said. "It's fun because sometimes you get to make up your own moves."
The Jerk Machine, a Caribbean restaurant with locations throughout Broward and Miami-Dade counties, including Sunrise and Fort Lauderdale, donated almost all the food.
"This is a nonprofit organization, and we like what they're trying to do," said area manager and catering coordinator Deanna Allen. "We like to give back to the community, and when we do, it's usually in the form of food."
Ragbeer was there because she wanted to expose her three children, Tatiana, 13, Natassjia, 5, and Katrina, 2, to Caribbean culture.
"I come from Jamaica, and I want my kids to see what type of community is all about, from the dancing to the music to the sense of family," she said. "I have support the foundation because of what they are trying to do for children."
That was also the attraction for Plantation City Councilwoman Diane Veltri Bendekovic.
"I'm an ex-ar-risk teacher, and I've seen firsthand the adjustment problems kids have when their families have moved from another country," Veltri Bendekovic said. "I know how this club fosters children. It's too bad every ethnic group doesn't do this."
Eric Myers of Davie, attorney for the Caribbean American National Foundation, lent a hand at the door: "What they're doing for the kids, that's why I got involved," Myers said. "What's good is they've got kids from the Caribbean community being mentored by adults from the same community."
Jimmy Gordon, president of the foundation, said the night was a success, with more 300 people in attendance. He was especially happy to be approached by a few professionals who wanted to become
"Next year we want to expand on a large scale outdoors with bands, booth, food and more cultural organizations represented," Gordon said. "We've done banquet dinners and gospel concerts in the past, but this was our first festival. We just want to keep growing and getting the word out." .