Regional

Grieving mother creates opportunities for others

BY ANIKA RICHARDS Sunday Observer staff reporter richardsai@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, July 20, 2014    

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WHEN Norma Hibbert's son, Jonathan Hibbert, died tragically in a road traffic accident on the Toll Gate main road in Clarendon in 2002, she had to find an outlet for her grief.

In 2003, she started the Jonathan Hibbert Foundation as a tribute to him, a schoolboy footballer who attended Munro College and was affectionately called 'Johno'. The foundation, which has grown significantly, is a non-profit, registered charity whose mission is to engage and inspire young people from socially deprived backgrounds, by providing a combined programme of sports, education and entertainment.

"Jonathan was 16 years and seven months old when he died," Hibbert told the Jamaica Observer in an interview last Thursday. "After a death you can sit down and cry, 'my one son and him gone', and all that, but there comes a point when you can't just go on like that.

"So this is one way for me to deal with his death and his memories," Hibbert stated.

Information posted on the National Road Safety Council's website described the incident: "Gifted Munro College student and young Reggae Boyz star Jonathan Hibbert was killed in a horrific crash while travelling to meet his mum and sister who had just arrived in Jamaica for Christmas 2002. Three other people died in the crash when an overtaking lorry ploughed into the minibus in which they were travelling."

Jonathan was born in England but to provide him with equal opportunities and a positive environment, Hibbert opted to have 'Johno' attend school in Jamaica.

"In England you have things like racism and little black boys, they don't do so well sometimes, and it then becomes a concious effort if you leave them in that situation where you know they have so many negative things around them and a lot of them end up in prison, unless you offer them something else," Hibbert recounted to the Sunday Observer. "That something else was bringing him home.

"He went to St Jago Prep to start with and then he got a scholarship to go to Munro from there," Hibbert continued.

She remained in England, spending a total of 48 years and nine months since moving there at age 11, but even then, she chanelled her energy into creating opportunities for youngsters between 17 and 21 to access scholarships to universities in the United States of America. Initially only offering scholarships to Munro College students, the foundation in 2006 widened it's reach to include youngsters from across the island.

"We don't personally give them the money, we just provide the opportunity or vehicle by which they obtain the scholarship and are able to go and do for themselves," Hibbert explained.

Hibbert said that there are as many scholarships as there are students who are looking for them, and that the problem the foundation has found is that after students are offered scholarships they are unable to accept them because of their inabilaity to complete the Scholastic Assessment Tests (SAT).

She said that this is due to the high fees associated with attending classes to prepare for the SATs, something her organsiation is seeking to address.

"What we found is that SAT in Jamaica is quite elitist and you need to be paying some serious US dollars to do it," Hibbert explained. "So we come in and we offer our own class and we've had class at Montego Bay High School and we had a class at STETHS (St Elizabeth Technical High School) and we are going to be starting at Jamaica College.

"We had one at Edith-Dalton James High School, but we found that parents were worried about their children coming to Duhaney Park," Hibbert continued.

Hibbert said in January of each year, as many as 500 students travel to its annual football tournament at Munro College in St Elizabeth, where young athletes get to showcase their skills under the watchful eyes of coaches from the USA offering the opportunity to access tertiary education through sport scholarships. By the time they get to the event, they would already have their SAT scores in hand and would know that after being offered a scholarship, it would just be a matter of paperwork to get them to school in the US.

The foundation's SAT classes were last year offered at a charge of $40,000, with an additional $500 for registration, but Hibbert said that amount will be increased to US$500. She contends that this amount is significantly less than the average cost of SAT classes, which she puts at at least US$1,200.

"On average, if we are looking at coaches who come looking for students, they are looking for usually three students, and they are not just looking at students for this year, they are building their team going forward," explained Hibbert. "They would know persons are going to be leaving, say this academic year, and so they are looking then to fill the spaces going forward."

So if there are five coaches, that is an average of about 15 scholarships up for grabs and according to Hibbert, this does not include the coaches who are also recruiting for their friends who were unable to make the trip.

She said that in one year, a total of 32 coaches attended the scholarship event.

"I have someone who will sit down and go through and see who is offering scholarships, who is offering full scholarships, what SAT scores they require, and we also contact universities and say we know you are requiring say a player for next season, and then we go from there," Hibbert explained about how the foundation makes the links with universities in the US.

She also said that of the more than 500 students who have benefitted from the foundation over the years, some have done extremely well which has resulted in universities reaching out to the foundation.

In the meantime, Hibbert moved to encourage more Jamaican girls to get involved in sports because they are well liked and once they have a good education, it can take them anywhere.

"The girls in Jamaica are able to do very well in the USA, particularly the ones who play football," Hibbert explained. "They like the Jamaican girls, they are rough, they are tough, they play with boys, they have that type of attitude; they are fearless."

Last June, Hibbert returned home and is now seeking to improve the foundation's SAT programme as well as host initiatives to raise money.

"Now that I am here I am looking to see how I can work with different groups within different communities to make the SAT programme work," said Hibbert. "Just do some developmental programmes for some of these youngsters who are going away, what they are likley to face.

"For example, prejudice, where you go somewhere and people might say you come here and you are freeloading," Hibbert stated.

She is also planning a fish fry and putting plans in place for a walk. With a seven-member management team on the island and another five-member team in England, over the years, the foundation has been able to maintain itself through hosting conferences and seminars in England as well as an annual walk in June, which has netted a fair amount of money to do work in Jamaica.

"I am hoping to make links here in Jamaica and hopefully from those links we are able to raise funds," Hibbert shared.

Located a 5 Baldwin Crescent in Duhaney Park, Hibbert and the Jonathan Hibbert Foundation remains committed to providing young people with exciting opportunities to use their sporting talent as a vehicle to achieve academic excellence and sporting success.

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