MOST of its skills training programmes are oversubscribed for this academic year, but while the St Patrick's Foundation has no problem attracting students, the same cannot be said about its ability to attract funding.
Among the four centres operated by the foundation are the Christ the Redeemer Human Resource Centre in Seaview Gardens and the St Margaret's Human Resource Centre in Waterhouse, which both offer skills training and remedial classes to students in these inner-city communities. While these programmes have been a catalyst for social and economic advancement, and have given unattached youths exposure to the working world, the foundation is finding it difficult to stay afloat.
"Since the recession, we have lost about 80 per cent of the grants and donations that we used to get," explained chairman Marlon Creary.
"For the last two years, we have been existing primarily from the interest we have been getting from our endowment fund that we had, but for the last 12 months, we have been going into the principal of our endowment funds and that now is woefully close to being dried up at this time," he said.
He said as a result of the financial constraints facing the foundation, they have not been able to reopen a basic school they operated in Callaloo Mews in Riverton City, and the posts of the four teachers at the institution were made redundant. The principal of the institution has, however, decided to continue the school as her own business venture with the assistance of an international organisation, so that the 40 students enrolled would not be at a disadvantage.
"The students who were there are still going to school, but we don't have the responsibility for the staff and the operations there and since the beginning of this school year, we have also cut back on some of the charity projects that we used to do," Creary noted.
The skills training centres operated by the foundation currently offer classes in woodwork, food preparation, electrical installation and cosmetology. Students are also prepared to sit their Grade Six Achievement Test and the Grade Nine Achievement Test as well as the HEART Trust/NTA examinations.
"We do a lot of remedial work, because as you know, there are a lot of kids who at 15 and 16 years old cannot read and write at all. So for them to matriculate into one of the HEART-rated programmes, we have to get them to a certain point, so we have a very large programme for those very slow kids up to young adults that we serve," Creary said.
He said all the classes, with the exception of their business administrative programmes, are oversubscribed. This has often been the case, especially for their cosmetology programme.
"In any one year, we could be turning out 250 to 300 students whom we train," he said.
Given the financial challenges being faced by the foundation, chairman of the Development Bank of Jamaica, Joseph Matalon, has called on private sector entities to support those entities that "are critical to the fight against poverty, the creation of self-reliance and the integration into society of the underserved, in a meaningful way."
Matalon, who made the plea during the St Patrick's Foundation Pledge Breakfast at the Terra Nova Hotel in St Andrew last week, noted that this commitment was necessary, given the high youth unemployment rate in Jamaica, which could be as much as 60 per cent in the inner city.
He said persons could help by paying the annual salary for one teacher or sponsor one department or give assistance in cash and kind to help those who need the vocational qualifications and the life and social skills needed to be integrated into the world of work.
Matalon said the current situation called for, "strong social intervention from the private sector."
"It's not what we traditionally think of as charity, it's survival! Decent education equals decent jobs. If we continue to pay lip service to the notion that the youth are our future and not make the investment in our youth, then we condemn ourselves to a permanent state of underdevelopment and lacklustre growth," he said.