'33 years and going strong'
Ex-Trelawny MP vows to continue Christmas treat
FALMOUTH, Trelawny — TRELAWNY businessman Keith Russell says the annual Christmas treat he initiated over three decades ago for the more than 7,000 primary school students across the constituency of North Trelawny, is a legacy he wants his children to perpetuate.
"I hope it will continue after our lives. I hope it is something I can leave for my children. We enjoy doing it and we see Trelawny as a part of our extended family," Russell told the Jamaica Observer West.
Russell revealed that the yearly treat which comes around during "Christmas week", has been in existence since 1981, a year after he became Member of Parliament for North Trelawny on the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) ticket. He said it was born out of the need to assess the educational needs of the primary schools across the constituency at the end of the year, among other reasons.
"In 1981 I started for a number of reasons. One of them is that having visited schools in early September when school starts back, by December was a good time to find out the things that were committed and were supposed to be done, how they were doing," he noted.
He added:"At least you change the perception of these kids when they become adults that no matter where you come from politically, you do have a responsibility and ought to look out for all the people."
He explained that over the years during the two-day treat, the students, as well as some parents, have received tangible gifts such as a book of the history of Trelawny and the most recent, a ring with the words of the Lord's prayer.
Despite hanging up his political boots in 1995 after losing his seat six years prior, Russell continued arguably the biggest treat in the parish through his Keith Edward Russell Family Foundation (KERFF).
In fact, it was in 1995 that he expanded the treat to include an annual gospel concert, staged in the historic Water Square in Trelawny's capital, Falmouth, which has attracted hundreds of patrons, including adults and children. Over the years top gospel acts such as Grace Thrillers, Carlene Davis and Goddy Goddy have performed at the concert.
Meanwhile, the philanthropic Russell revealed that funding for the annual treat forms part of the family's expenses during the last part of the year.
"It's a commitment. You build it in the expenditure in the last quarter of the year as a family with my wife and the kids.... who are now adults, you build that in, just like paying the JPS bills. This is something that needs to be done no matter where the money comes from," said the former politician.
Russell, who reluctantly gave the Observer West an exclusive interview, conceded that over the years he has deliberately shied away from the media about the treat.
But perhaps the best kept secret has been the tertiary programme which sees the KERFF funding several tertiary students in the parish.
"Remember, we don't usually do the PR. This is something special between us (KERFF and the students)," the developer said.
His wife, Paula chipped in: "We don't do this for any self-aggrandisement. We just do it really because we want to and we feel that this is how we can give back a little of what we have been blessed with."
But Russell believes that there is still much more KERFF should be doing for the children in the parish.
"We are not doing a quarter of as much as we would like. But our objective will be met one day with God's blessing."
However, several citizens expressed their appreciation for KERFF's generosity.
" I certainly look forward to the gospel concert every year," Jennifer, a resident of Falmouth, told the Observer West.
"We really appreciate Mr Russell's annual treat."