Regional

Heart Praise scholarships to 6 St Thomas students

BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor — special assignment browni@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, July 07, 2014    

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Members of Healthy Music Group, who have been positively impacting the lives of St Thomas residents, have made good on their promise to use proceeds from this year's staging of the annual Heart Praise Worship Fest to provide scholarships for some Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) students.

Six students will, this week, be presented with the two-year Heart Praise Great Start scholarships valued at $30,000 each to cover tuition and books.

The St Thomas-based group, comprising young Christian men and women, wanted to give scholarships to 10 students. However, that number had to be revised because the projected amount was not realised.

Gospel recording artiste and founder of Healthy Music Group Rondell Allen, who goes by the stage name Rondell Positive, told the Jamaica Observer North East that this year, scholarship recipients were drawn from Morant Bay, Yallahs, Airy Castle, Trinityville, and Golden Grove primary schools. Five of them gained places at Morant Bay High while one student will be going to Yallahs High.

Allen explained that the criteria for selecting the students were based on their financial needs as well as academic performances.

The recommendations, he said, were made by the guidance counsellors of the respective schools who have first-hand knowledge of the students' needs.

One of the scholarships was split between two boys from Morant Bay Primary as the decision to choose just one was a challenge in itself.

"Both boys had similar averages and they fell in the same needy situation," said Allen, who is also a teacher at Morant Bay Primary.

Although another criterion is for the recipients to exhibit good behaviour, Allen said the Jamaica Observer's recent inspirational story of St Thomas native Dr Peter Nelson, who gained a doctorate in chemistry at age 25 despite not having been the best behaving student at primary school, has caused them to review that decision. As a result, one of this year's recipient was selected more on academic achievement than behaviour.

"We think we can give a child with some behavioural issue a chance to transform himself," he said.

Meanwhile, Allen said they will certainly be pushing to increase the number of scholarships for next year.

"There were several students who would have qualified for the scholarships, and so, some schools had such a drastic decision to make, so much so that they were asking us to select the child through an essay writing competition," he said.

And based on the feedback on the concert within the parish, Allen said the group is confident that it will be able to make enough from the next staging to give at least 10 scholarships for next year. They are also hoping to get sponsorship for the annual event.

"Right now, most of the money to do this comes from our pockets, and so the intention is to get corporate Jamaica to be more involved," he said.

The Healthy Music Group comprises 24 members from several religious denominations in the parish, who came together because of their involvement in different aspects of working with youth.

Group member and guidance counsellor at Morant Bay High Lesa James-Richardson said their aim is to ensure that the parish they reside in will be a better place.

"As long as I live in St Thomas it must be better. Can you imagine if every person would say as long as I live here it must be better?" she said.

"I believe we all should take the attitude to say these children are all ours, and if we say let's 'adopt' a child, our country would be on a positive path to ensure our children are educated and well cared for," she said.

Another project the group plans on funding from the proceeds 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.

He noted that they have already identified the boys to benefit from the Care A Hair initiative come September.

"We have more than 100 boys who need this assistance with haircuts at least every two weeks... many of them don't get a haircut in four months because their parents cannot afford to send them to the barber," he explained.

According to Allen, a main aim of the group is to organise a charity to address many of these needs in the parish.

"We will get Eastern Jamaica to the place where it ought to be because we can't wait on politicians," he said.

Allen said the group members' children also actively participate in the projects as a deliberate move to expose them to a greater appreciation of the need to help others.

"We know that when they get older they will continue to assist," Allen said.

The group's focus is also being extended beyond just helping children to improving families. As such, Allen said they are currently planning to host a marriage seminar for people who are married, contemplating marriage, or are afraid of getting married.

"The aim is to deal with all marriages, not just Christian marriages, because there is a stigma that marriages don't work but that is not true," said Allen.

Plans are also on the table to stage a paediatric run or walk in St Thomas as the group said they are aiming to raise $3 million for the paediatric ward at Princess Margaret Hospital in the parish.

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