Dianne Innis possesses no lofty ambitions that have to do with ‘changing the world’ or even lifting all of the young and underprivileged Guyanese whose lives are blighted by poverty and perhaps worse, by lack of opportunity, out of their present predicament. She understands clearly the limits of what lies within her power and says that she believes that it is the size of her heart rather than the depth of her purse that matters.
Long a resident of the United States, she simply refuses to give up on Guyana. These days, she runs two modest business enterprises locally, one, a small, quaint confectionery shop in King Street – between Robb Street and North Road named Candy Express and the other a Forshaw Street showroom where she displays an array of accoutrements associated with her second (again modest) business, Party Castle, which offers everything from exotic decor and high quality food for events wishing to make a ‘splash.’ Both business establishments appear to have been established for the purpose of putting down roots here for her substantive mission of giving back to Guyana.
When we met Dianne a few weeks ago she was preoccupied with a contract she had won to provide the catering and décor for an event at the Lusignan Golf Club and as she worked to put the event together she ‘lectured’’ us on her preoccupation of contributing to the raising of standards in the entertainment industry in Guyana. She sees no reason why fine dining and first rate entertainment should be the sole prerogative of the expatriates who show up here from time to time on one mission or another and who can afford a ‘do’ at the Marriott.
Between events, she invited a small group that included two Stabroek News staffers to dinner at her Forshaw Street Display Centre. Dinner comprised steamed and seasoned prawns, steamed fish and crab, the one regret being that the number of guests was insufficient to ‘do justice’ to the feast that she served up. It is not difficult to tell that playing hostess is one of Dianne’s favourite pastimes.
Another day we were invited to visit the Candy Express where the shelves were buckling under the weight of a bewildering array of sweets which she had imported from the United States. It was past school hours on a weekday and half a dozen or so wide-eyed children were browsing, some contemplating helping themselves to samples without bothering to ascertain whether sampling was permissible.
There is a sharp contrast between the sheer array and volume of the sweets displayed at the Candy Store and the cramped nature of the Shop. We asked Dianne about the likelihood of moving to more suitable premises. Predictably, she explained that the prevailing ‘high street’ rental prices are beyond her reach.
You get the distinct impression that Dianne has subsumed her entrepreneurial pursuits beneath her philanthropic ones. When she disclosed that she intended to have a ‘classy evening’ for a group of children who might most benefit from such an outing we met with her to share ideas, her pick finally settling on groups from the Joshua House and St. Ann’s Orphanage.
Consistent with her belief that ‘good times’ ought not to be the exclusive purview of the privileged, Dianne informed us that her party for the children would be called a Night of Elegance. Her chosen venue was the Bookland Place, a quiet, well-appointed Complex at the corner of Albert Street and Woolford Avenue. On the night she rolled out the proverbial Red Carpet, a Master of Ceremonies, a hired Dinner Service Crew and a Creative Dancer for entertainment. That evening, the children had the time of their lives.
One of her immediate goals is to create a core of like-minded Guyanese both at home and in the United States who can support her charitable initiatives. The idea of a Foundation has been mooted but she is yet to commit to such a venture. Whatever she does she wants to keep it simple, she says.
When she is not contemplating some charitable gesture – the latest one being joining forces with other family members to make a material contribution to an organization involved with a group of children in Sophia – she is giving thought to how to expand her existing business base. Her focus, she says, is on working towards a single facility that can accommodate both enterprises. The businesses are intended to serve as a means of income and a vehicle through which to subsidize her charitable pursuits.
She returns to the United States after Christmas, her head, she says, full of thoughts about how to immerse herself deeper in the Guyanese entrepreneurial culture whilst moving to recruit friends and relatives into a charity that targets Guyanese children of poor circumstances. The latter, she says, is shaping to be a long-term pursuit.