Special needs children get Christmas wish

Special needs children get Christmas wish

BY RACQUEL PORTER
Observer staff reporter
porterr@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, December 13, 2019

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WHEN Olympic and World Champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce got to the second floor of the Half-Way-Tree Transport Centre yesterday morning, more than 200 special needs children were astonished.

Some of them, with tears in their eyes, could not contain their excitement, while others who were in disbelief, sought confirmation.

It was a Christmas wish for many of them who thought that they would never get a chance to meet Fraser-Pryce, who is affectionately called 'Mommy Rocket'.

Co-founders of Inspire to Empower a Change Foundation Stephanie Josephs and Anita Atkinson-Dean knew they had to invite Fraser-Pryce as one of the surprise guests at their third annual Christmas treat for the children.

The two, who are also Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) employees, told the Jamaica Observer that their main sponsor, Sanmerna Foundation, knew what they wanted to achieve and made contact with the track star.

“We went to Sanmerna [Foundation] and begged them, please to try and get Shelly-Ann for them. They pulled through for us,” Josephs said, adding that they, too, had been in suspense up to yesterday.

Atkinson-Deans chimed in: “When Shelly-Ann came she was so active. She took pictures with them, she fed them, she blended in with them, and you know not everybody sees the ability in children with special needs, and so I want to give a big thank you to Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.”

Just under a year after Josephs and Atkinson-Deans were employed to the State-run bus company, they were given the task of monitoring students with special needs who travel on the buses daily. The two have now been working with JUTC for five years.

“We sit with them until the bus comes to take them to school and take them home in the evenings. We developed a bond with them. They are like our own children; sometimes they call us mom, aunty, and so on. Anita came up with the idea to have a treat for them because some persons don't look out for children with special needs nowadays, and they matter,” Josephs told the Observer.

Stressing that children with special needs should be loved and encouraged, Josephs said she has a lot of love to give and so she, along with Atkinson-Deans, thought it fitting to approach the main sponsors.

“We normally buy them gifts out of our own pockets, help them with their homework because sometimes when they go home, they don't normally have anybody to help them… We attend their sports day [at school] because sometimes their parents are unable to go. Sometimes we tell them that we can't make it because we have work and then we just show up,” Josephs said.

Noting that the treat has grown significantly, with additional sponsorship from Yellow, Continental Baking Company, Pepsi, Wisynco, Royale Computers and Accessories, Carib Cash, and Sophie Tissue, she said the students now look forward to it at this time of the year.

“Now is the time more than ever to just partner with each other and make them happy, put a smile on their faces. Over 200 students left with gifts, probably Mommy couldn't provide it, but we have made them feel so special leaving with something, and that is what we are looking to enhance so that it will get bigger and better each year,” Atkinson-Deans said.

Sanmerna Foundation Chairman Viris Clarke-Ellis said when Josephs and Atkinson-Deans sent her an e-mail three years ago, she had to respond.

“The students were excited. They really, really, thoroughly enjoyed the treat today (Thursday) and that is a part of why we continue to do it year after year [it] is just to see the reaction from the students. They were well-behaved; they weren't shy. They were willing to come up and dance and sing… In the song contest I was amazed to see the talents that came out.

The Nigeria High Commissioner to Jamaica Janet Olisa was among the many special guests who attended the event.


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