For anyone looking at her life today, Charmane Wong represents the true American Dream. Arriving in this country from Jamaica as a teenager, she was asunder in a foreign world with little to anchor her except her family. And even they had little to offer as they too were navigating a new landscape of jobs, housing, education, and urban living. Life in the Bronx, NY was insular and isolating – she went to school and came back to homework and housework every day.
Her mother Yvonne, a nurse, worked long and tiring hours; her father John was in Jamaica managing the family farm with her two brothers. Charmane and her sister Joan were basically alone in this vast and unfamiliar setting: their only instruction and obligation being to study hard and get a good education. It didn’t help that that to many at Harry S. Truman High School their name conjured up an unknown world halfway around the world; and their appearance didn’t match that construct. The product of Chinese and Black parents, the sisters also own white ancestors somewhere in their lineage – so their exotic faces and Patois speech made them stand out as different and alien. As such, Charmane was determined to prove herself worthy of her many different heritages.
Graduating with honors from high school, Charmane surged through Syracuse University, earning a Chancellor Citation Honor as she completed her bachelor’s degree in speech communication from the College of Visual and Performing Arts. She jumped directly from there into attaining her JD at West Virginia University of Law. That accomplishment alone qualifies as the American Dream, but she didn’t stop there. First she joined Bronx Legal Services and directed their Youth Advocacy Project. This led to her lifelong vocation to help serve as a voice for voiceless children. Indeed, what followed was a trail of career moves that shows Charmane’s commitment to this cause.
Her resume includes stints at some of the largest and most well-known family and child services organizations within the Greater New York Area. She has served as staff or as a volunteer in this field at every juncture of her life. Currently, Charmane is Director of Human Resources at Birch Family Services, in New Rochelle, where she’s been for about five years. Before that, she spent over ten years at Graham Windham as Vice President. She says, “I have met great people, and have done meaningful work in the areas that I am passionate about”. And she just doesn’t talk the talk, she walks the walk – Charmane and her husband, Paul Dunn (also a family and child services career professional), are the proud adopted parents of son, Jacob whom they adopted 20 years ago as an infant, in addition to their biological daughter.
Today, Charmane is a proud emblem of the Jamaican Diaspora in this country, a life rich in culture and creature comforts, a vibrant career, a loving and compassionate family, real estate in Westchester County, and a vacation home in North Carolina are all tributes to her having assimilated seemingly seamlessly into the American Dream. She has worked hard and tirelessly and her accomplishments make her proud, but also made her look back toward her homeland. She doesn’t regret being brought here as a teenager without personal agency, and hopes her legacy in this country is to be known “as someone who has championed the rights of the poor and immigrants, a champion of children, justice for all, and one who works to secure housing for the homeless and victims of domestic violence”.
In keeping with this, Charmane is a founding board member of a new non-profit, Winsome Wishes For Kids (WWKids). When WWKids’ President, her friend and fellow-Jamaican Simone Fisher invited her to be part of this fledgling endeavor, Charmane didn’t hesitate. Its mission, to provide equity in the classroom for children with diverse issues that affect their learning, resonated with her. She remembers the stellar education she received in Jamaica, but also realizes that its pace really didn’t accommodate any student who needed extra help. She is excited about WWKids, and serves as the trustee in charge of governance and legal matters. Thus far, she is delighted at the work they’ve done in the 8 months since inception.
After gaining non-profit status and their 501C3 rating, the founding board members have quickly established a website, Winsome Wishes For Kids; started a GoFundMe Campaign; and embarked on partnerships with the esteemed New York City institute, https://www.thewindwardschool.org/the-windward-institute to provide programming and training for WWKids’ teachers. Meanwhile in Jamaica, their pilot programs include Vaz, Gideon and Lannaman. In spite of the Pandemic, WWKids has already sponsored several virtual training events, a “School Opening” wellness event, and has provided gifts, financial support and other resources to teachers and parents of these schools.
In looking back at the past forty years, Charmane is quick to acknowledge that her success is a result of not only hard work, but of good fortune and divine mercy. She doesn’t take it lightly, and knows that her path, could have diverted drastically. She is grateful to have had the parental guidance and educational resources of her youth, but understands that not every child is as fortunate. She believes that WWKids is a vehicle through which she can share her blessings and make life easier for the students, teachers, and parents in Jamaica whose journey may not be buoyed by the same fortuitous circumstances as hers. Her message to any new immigrant to this country is one of hope, compassion and patriotic duality: Make use of the many opportunities of this great nation, work hard, be kind, and always remember where you come from – the diaspora is made better by our giving back to lift up the homeland from whence we come. Charmane’s work with WWKids speaks to this latter goal.
For more information, go to WWKids, and to support their work, go to their