Career & Education

Defying the odds: From homeless waif to executive agent

Sunday, January 28, 2018

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AT the tender age of nine, instead of getting ready for school like many other children her age, Lorraine Younger would wake up every morning before the crack of dawn and walk miles by herself from Ocho Rios to the farmlands just outside Fern Gully. She would make this journey on foot to milk goats so that she could provide part of the breakfast to serve her caretakers, a family of eleven.

Fast-forward some four decades later, and Younger is a top Executive Club insurance agent at Sagicor Life Jamaica, a member of the Executive Club, qualifier for the Million Dollar Round Table Club (the premier international association for top insurance advisors), and a Production Club director, as well as president of the Agents' Association.

But life has been tumultuous for the 51-year-old, who had to contend with severe difficulties from early childhood right through her formative years. Before she could claim her over 22 years in the local insurance industry, with 12 served at the top of her game, Younger had to overcome homelessness and abuse that plagued her childhood.

“My mother died when I was only three years old, and after that life took me on an unusual path, which had me living across the various parishes,” Younger recalled.

Her father, who worked on the Guantanamo Bay base in Cuba, placed the toddler in the care of friends and associates, which led to frequent upheavals as she moved across the island from one family to another.

During a brief period of stability, Younger found herself staying with a family in Trench Town, Kingston, where she was able to attend school more often. While on her way from school one morning, she witnessed a murder and was completely traumatised. Younger crawled under a bed where she remained hidden for days while her caregivers were searching for her. On the fourth day of her disappearance, she was finally discovered shivering with fear, famished and filthy after not having showered, eaten or moved from her place of concealment.

Her father, recognising the danger his daughter was in, then made the decision to once again relocate her to St Ann, where she would live for the next eight years.

Though she moved to the garden parish, life for Younger was no bed of roses. Funds from her father, who initially sent money to the family where she was staying, abruptly dried up a year into the new arrangement. This meant that her formal education suffered.

“I attended school maybe two to three times a month,” she said.

Younger would rarely have downtime – many a morning she could only rely on the helpfulness of strangers to provide a meal to fuel her daily walk to the farm in Fern Gully. A farmer's wife would sneak her pancakes, and on her walk back she used to pick fruits from their property. To escape the wrath and fists of her caretakers, she would have to eat it all and get rid of the evidence before she reached back to the house, where she was expected to get the children ready for school and prepare the family's breakfast.

This was a dismal time for Younger. She had no friends, except for a goat that she received as payment for helping a neighbour. On one of the rare occasions when she attended school, she recalled starting a friendship with a schoolmate, Peter, at Ocho Rios Primary School.

“I met Peter at school and he would bring me books. I remember getting Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books. I could barely read, though, so eventually I asked him for a dictionary,” she said.

Younger explained that she asked for the dictionary because Peter had assured her it would help her learn how to pronounce words. Peter would go on to play a vital role at this stage in her life, as he would share homework with her on days she was not able to attend school, allowing her to study on her own. Through her determination, she passed the Common Entrance Examination and received a Government scholarship to attend secondary school.

However, the mother of the family she lived with would not permit her to go to high school immediately.

“Maybe for about a year I stayed home because she did not know the scholarship was free!” Younger revealed.

During this time Younger helped her guardian sell treats just outside the gate of her old primary school, and as fate would have it, one day one of her primary school teachers intervened and clarified for her guardian that the scholarship covered all her secondary school expenses. She was finally permitted to attend high school.

Ocho Rios Secondary, now Ocho Rios High School, was a good escape for Younger from the hardships she experienced at home. With the help of the scholarship, she was able to attend school regularly and began to shine even more in her studies, especially the performing arts. Unfortunately, this was not enough to distract her from her personal woes, and eventually she sank into depression.

One day, after being sent out to buy fish, the pressures and circumstances of her life overwhelmed Younger, and she attempted suicide. She walked out to the sea and tried to drown herself, but was rescued by a fisherman who realised what was happening.

But things would get much worse before they got any better for Younger. After she went on a ninth grade field trip to Kingston to watch a play, her guardian, not knowing that she had sneaked off to attend the trip, was furious, and meted out a swift and harsh punishment.

Younger had reached her wits' end. Frustrated with the abuse she had received over the years from her caretaker, she packed a bag and made the decision to run away.

“I didn't know where I was going. I knew no one, and I had nowhere to go” she shared.

Nevertheless, she packed a bag and walked to Fern Gully, where she was able to get a ride from a passer-by who was headed to Kingston. With no place to stay and no friends or family in Kingston, Younger was now homeless and wandering around in a strange place. Eventually she came across a police station, where she was allowed to remain for a few weeks on the back verandah.

In time, things began to get better, even as she was forced to get creative with her sleeping arrangements.

A few months into her stay in Kingston, Younger enjoyed a brief stint as a nanny to a family in upper St Andrew. They would set her on the path she always dreamed of – completing her schooling. Other circumstances would force her to move on from this position; however, she eventually found a job as a bartender: she would work at night, and attend classes in the day.

“Anywhere that I could catch a vacant bathroom, I would sleep in it,” she recalled.

“I knew I had to survive. I would get tips at the bar where I was working, and I put that money towards school,” she explained.

With her resilience, determination and commitment, she was eventually able to get some CXCs and A Levels within a few short years. Her willpower to overcome her circumstances would soon pay off, and Younger eventually stumbled on the career that would forever change her life.

Her journey as an insurance advisor would start after visiting an insurance company as a disgruntled client to complain. The conversation between herself and the customer service manager would end with the manager encouraging her to pursue the career. Younger took the advice and soon after became a licensed insurance agent.

As with all things, her transition into the industry was not without a few hiccups.

“One of my most memorable encounters was while I was a pre-contracted agent and I tried selling a gentleman a policy. He laughed at me and told me that he wouldn't buy from me because I was not going to last in the business. I was so frustrated that I gave him a piece of my mind because I really thought that would be my last day in the insurance business. He then smiled and said, 'You have fire inna yuh, man.' He ended up buying a plan, and to date he is still my client,” she said proudly.

In 1999 Younger joined Life of Jamaica, which eventually became Sagicor. With the exception of a three-year hiatus, she has been with the company since then. For Younger, her job as an insurance advisor has significantly opened doors and provided opportunities for her, especially in terms of earning potential. As a girl who once stole fruits so she could eat, Younger has come a very long way.

“I love the flexibility that the job offers, as well as the interesting personalities that I encounter daily. I also enjoy the fact that there is no limit to how much I can earn and the amazing opportunities that it affords me,” she said.

She explained that her 'Rookie of the Year' award is one of her most treasured achievements.

“I am extremely grateful for all my accomplishments, but my Rookie of the Year award is extremely dear to me as it was my first major accomplishment and made me aware of my huge potential,” she shared.

Having eventually repaired her relationship with her father, she could count on her Sagicor co-workers to get her through his passing in 2017. She is now a mother and a loving wife, and being surrounded by love at home and at work has made it possible to forgive, so she can move forward with her life.

In more recent years, she has made attempts to build a strong relationship with her childhood abuser.

“I recognised that she really and truly did not know what she was doing. She could not read or write, so all of her life was built around frustration and resentment,” she reflected.

Her advice to young people in challenging circumstances is to focus on the end result.

“I would advise any young person in a similar position to focus on the result they desire for themselves rather than their circumstances, and keep being positive despite their experiences,” she said.

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