BY KIMMO MATTHEWS Sunday Observer staff reporter Matthewsk@jamaicaobserver.com
INNCERCITY youth in the tough community of Nannyville in Kingston who are frustrated by being stereotyped as non-productive and prone to involvement in illegal activities, are trying to prove society wrong with an initiative aimed at changing the lives of needy children in their area.
A group of them have formed Ballers INC, which is raising funds to help parents and under-resourced educational institutions in the community.
Two months after forming the group, its members are hoping that based on the feedback they will be able to transplant the idea in other communities across the island. (formed two months ago)
Omar Stanley — a 40-year-old construction supervisor and engineer who was born and bred in Nannyville — along with several of his friends, host a monthly entertainment fundraiser dubbed Liquid Splash, from which part-proceeds go towards helping needy students who live or go to school in the area.
It may be argued that this type of event is nothing new, as many other cash-challenged communities host similar events, but Ballers INC members say that their efforts are unique for a number of factors.
"Unlike other initiatives, we are not sitting down and waiting for help. Self-reliance is the message we are trying to send through this programme which we hope to introduce to other communities across the country," said 34-year-old Barrington Pettigrew, the owner and operator of Bar Grove Janitorial Limited.
Another member of the group, 37-year-old Dwayne Virgo, said the money used to host the many fundraising events come from the group members' own pockets.
"We are not rich people. We are not blessed with unlimited funds, but what we use is from our own earnings," said Virgo.
But it was the explanation by Travis Graham, another member of the group that painted an even clearer picture of the concept.
He said that unlike other groups, the members of Baller INC were pushing the concept of social entreprenuerism.
He said the group had structured their programme to operate in the current shaky economic environment in Jamaica, as members fully understand that many corporate entities no longer have sponsorship funds to give to poor communities.
"What we are trying to push is the concept of social entrepreneurism. This is where you develop your own fund to contribute to social development instead of trying to pressure private entities," said Graham.
The 29-year-old was admant that this why the group members were pushing the concept of self-reliance and where organising activities like the Liquid Splash is a way for them to give back to their communities.
He said this will also show young people that they all had a responsibility to contribute towards nation building.
The money earned from the group's events is used to purchase items for needy schoolchildren inside, and even outside their community. In many cases the money pays the school fees of students whose parents are facing difficult financial times.
In fact, the most recent donations were made to the Nannyville Early Childhood Institution and to the Mountain View Basic School.
"Last month, from funds raised, the school fees of five students from Nannyville Early Childhood Institution were paid in full. A television set and DVD player were also handed over to the school during a presentation ceremony," Pettigrew elaborated, adding that sections of the building were also renovated by the men.
"Our aim is to address as many problems at that institution as possible," Virgo said.
Nicole Sterling, principal of the school, told the Sunday Observer that the entire school community welcomed the men's efforts.
"Parents are struggling to send their children to school. Last year, some parents did not send their children to school for the entire term...," Sterling said.
Even the police have welcomed Ballers INC's efforts.
"The police is aware of the initiative," said Inspector Monica Malcolm from the St Andrew Central police division, noting that she was constantly being told of the good deeds of the group's members.
Other members of the police division said they, too, were encouraged by the fact that young men in the area were using their time in a positive way.
The men welcomed this positive feedback from the police and urged other communities to take up the cause in their own neighbourhoods.
"If groups from each community can follow in our footsteps, then we believe Jamaica could become a better place," said Virgo.