A dream come true for former wards of the State

BY PENDA HONEYGHAN Observer writer

Sunday, September 13, 2015

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When Patricia Brown was a few weeks old she was left at the Port Antonio Hospital because her mother, who was 15 years old at the time of her birth, simply could not afford to care for her.

Not very long after a nurse fell in love with baby Patricia and took her home, but constant harassment from Brown's biological father forced her to return Brown to State care.

But after a tearful court session, a woman close to Brown's first foster mother, was signed as her legal guardian. Brown said she was loved and treated no less than a biological child, having been exposed to the finer things in life. Having completed high school, Brown's dream to become a dentist was halted because her foster mother could not come up with the $3.2 million annually for tuition. This forced the second year biotechnology student to change her major, with a mission to receive first class honours so that she could enrol at the St Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies where the fees are subsidised.

But Brown's dream may be realised sooner than later. The Children of Jamaica, Outreach Inc (COJO) in partnership with the Child Development Agency has awarded Brown a scholarship valued at US$5,000, not only because she is a former ward of the State, having turned 18, but because she is a student in need with a high academic standing and committed to volunteerism.

But Brown is not the only ward of the State who was awarded. Three other students, including Moesha Wollery, 18, who will be attending the Moneague College, Alex Arnold, 18, who is heading to the Montego Bay Community College, and Tanegea Campbell, 19, who will be pursuing a degree in nursing at the Northern Caribbean University, were also presented with cheques valued at US$5,000.

The scholarship ceremony, which was held at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel last Thursday, is the fifth annual scholarship ceremony put on by COJO. The scholarship aims to offer financial assistance to wards of the State, or those who, by virtue of age have stopepd being referred to as such, who have performed exceptionally and wish to pursue a higher education.

Founder of COJO, Gary Williams said that the scholarship programme is an arm of the 21-year-old non-profit organisation which has provided educational supplies, clothing, shoes and household supplies to under-served children in places of safety such as Red Hills and Windsor Lodge.

William said that his executive partners who depend on fund-raising, donations and sponsorship to keep the foundation afloat each year, was assisted greatly by an unanticipated source of funding.

"I was startled when I opened the company's account and stumbled across a balance, US$10,000 more than what should have been there," Williams said.

Fearing it was a hoax, Williams traced the money back to an Australian, who identified himself only as Toni -- a former ward of the State who was attached to the Red Hills Place of Safety. He was eager to help children who were experiencing a similar misfortune, now that he is in a position to do so.

"After making the contact with Toni, he has since donated an additional US$8,000 which we will be handing over to places of safety. It's good when people have a heart like this," Williams said.

In addition, COJO received another US$5,000 cash award from JetBlue Foundation, which along with Toni's contribution resulted in the value of scholarships by US$1,000-US$2,000 over previous years.

Chief Executive Officer of the CDA, Rosalee Gage-Grey praised COJO for its continued commitment to children in state care. "We cannot thank COJO enough for their continued support. There are some progressive youth in State care, but investment in children is paramount to change," she said, while citing notable examples of two students who received 10 Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate subjects, eight with grade one, while another bagged nine with eight ones in the 2015 sitting.

Addressing attendees at the function, guest speaker, Executive-in-Residence at the Mona School of Business and Management and Foundation Director at the GraceKennedy Foundation, James Moss-Soloman used the opportunity to encourage attendees to teach children that their communities should not be mistaken for the world, while encouraging them to open their minds to thinking ethically, embrace values, moral and truth that are missing from the homes.

Williams praised donors and sponsors, Sandals Group, JetBlue Airways, J Wray and Nephew, and Jamaica Pegasus, which all contributed to the successful execution of the awards luncheon. He reminded the students to look beyond their situation of need.

"Don't allow your situation to be a deterrent. Many of us could not have reached where we are without the help of others," Williams said.

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