A healthy dose of help
BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor - special assignment firstname.lastname@example.org
WHAT started out as a simple project to raise funds to repair a school damaged by Tropical Storm Gustav has mushroomed into the Healthy Music Group, a St Thomas-based troupe of young Christian men and women which has been positively impacting the lives of people in this eastern parish.
Gospel recording artiste and founder of the Healthy Music Group Rondell Allen, who goes by the stage name Rondell Positive, said the idea for his philanthropic work was conceptualised in the aftermath of the 2008 storm which ravaged Eastern Paradise Prep School where his children are students.
"I thought about how I could help and so I called some friends together and staged a concert to raise some money to help," he recalled.
The event has since blossomed into the annual Heart Praise Worship Fest and is the major fundraiser for the many projects the group undertakes.
A teacher by profession, Allen said he recognised that technology was lacking in many rural schools, hence the decision to use proceeds from the event to equip the institution with computers. Since then, Allen said the group has donated computers to Morant Bay Primary, Seaforth Primary, Paradise Prep, St Thomas Hill View Prep and Lyssons Primary.
In addition to proceeds from the concert, Allen said he has spent significant portions of his salary as well as take out personal loans to fund the initiatives. But it has been well worth it, he said.
After a hiatus in 2012 to focus on his well-received album Sticks Nor Stones Reggae Worship, Allen returned with even bigger and better ideas to help the young people of St Thomas.
The Healthy Music Group comprises 24 members from several church denominations in the parish who came together because of their involvement in different aspects of working with youth.
"Almost everyone has been independently working with children so we have teachers and guidance counsellors," explained group member Kevin Mitchell.
One of the projects the group plans on funding from the proceeds of this Labour Day's staging of Heart Praise Worship Fest is an initiative dubbed Care A Hair to offer haircuts to young boys.
Allen said he got the idea after he paid for a disruptive student to get a haircut and immediately saw the difference it made in the child's behaviour.
"There was a grade four student who was very disruptive and I was wondering what to do to help and so when I looked at his physical appearance I decided to get him a haircut and that one haircut changed his entire life.
"I remember he would always ask me when is the barber coming again and his behaviour just changed, " Allen told the Jamaica Observer North East.
Allen said he had paid for the haircut from his salary and was therefore limited in how many such boys he could help.
"There are some students in my school who for three months don't get a haircut because their parents just cannot afford it and this affects them mentally," he said.
"For this year the aim is that after this event we will be able to sustain that for some months to help about 100 boys or so," he explained.
Another project the group is focusing on for this year is the provision of scholarships for students of five primary schools in the parish who have recently sat the Grade Six Achievement Test.
"We want to give these students a Heart Praise Great Start Scholarship and it won't be just brilliant students, but those who are doing well but are having challenges," Allen explained.
"I have some students who can only bring a fry dumpling to school for their lunch but they are brilliant and we will be seeking to help some of those," he said.
The guidance counsellors in the respective schools, he explained, will be asked to select two such students from each institution.
The group has also been invited into many of the schools to host devotions and give motivational talks, which Allen said has been well received.
"This week I spoke to two groups of third form students and they started off only wanting to talk about Vybz Kartel but it was amazing to see how their outlook changed as I spoke to them and in a few minutes I got them to be speaking positively," he said.
Allen added: "It was amazing to hear teenagers respond and asking 'when you coming back' and what that said to me is that young people are longing for the good things and the truth."
Allen said he recalled praying for a festival event in the parish that will bring long-term hope to people of St Thomas and he intends to develop the charity to have an even greater impact.
For his part, Mitchell said when he heard Allen's vision it was in sync with what he wanted for the parish as a representative of Youth for Christ.
"We need to focus more on touching people's lives physically before you can touch them spiritually," he noted.
Fellow group member Norman Hinds said as a youth minister he has seen where there is great hope for the nation's young people and expressed confidence that what they are doing will help to bring about this change.