'The joy of giving back'

BY MARK CUMMINGS Editor-at-Large, Western Bureau cummingsm@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, September 04, 2014

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SANDY BAY, Hanover — NEW-YORK-BORN Nekhida Harris, 19, and her 16-year-old sister Kimberly had become accustomed to seeing their Jamaican parents giving back to the less fortunate both in the United States and abroad.

It is not surprising then, that six years ago, the two founded the international charity organisation, Harris Family Vision Foundation Inc, which provides assistance to Jamaica, Haiti, St Vincent, Trinidad and New York.

"Growing up in our house, they (parents) always gave back. If someone needs help with tuition, or school supplies, whatever it is they could do, especially with educational stuff, they were always willing to help. We grew up around that and they got us involved and so we decided to incorporate everything and make it official by starting the foundation," said Kimberly, who is a motivational speaker and a minister.

Nekhida, who stands at a little over two feet as a result of a disability, recalls that her parents Michael and Dasline Harris, who were both born in St Catherine, had been going to Jamaica for more than two decades to give back to family members, as well as needy children.

"Every year we would go back to Jamaica and we used to give back packs, uniforms, money... and so as my sister (Kimberly) and I grew up we said we were going to put a name to it. That's when we started the Harris Foundation and since then we have been giving back to different communities throughout the island," the co-founder told the Jamaica Observer West.

This year, roughly 2,000 individuals from across several parishes in Jamaica -- which receives the major chunk of the assistance from the foundation -- were presented with back-to-school supplies, free medical examinations and lunches at 11 locations during the Harrises recent visit to the island.

At most of the locations, the children also participated in a raft of fun-filled activities.

Michael Harris, the father of the founders of the foundation, told the Observer West during one of the health fairs and back-to-school activities held at the Fletcher's Grove Baptist Church in Sandy Bay, Hanover recently, that the foundation spent more than US$10,000 this year on the various events across the island.

He noted that areas where events were held this year included Franklyn Town, Rose Town and Dunkirk, in the Corporate Area; May Pen, Clarendon; Old Harbour, St Catherine; Lime Hall and Clarkstonville in St Ann; Springfield in St James, and in St Mary.

"A ceremony for Lascelles Burnett, the retired principal of the Redwod Primary School in St Catherine, who completed 41 years in the education field, was also hosted by the foundation," added Michael, who heads the foundation.

Apart from the annual health fair and back-to-school events, the Harris Foundation provides valuable assistance to many institutions. The assistance includes a breakfast programme at Enfield Primary in Westmoreland; a lunch programme at Redwood Primary in St Catherine; scholarships and sporting gear and equipment to a number of schools and youth clubs.

The foundation has also opened a clinic in Madras, St Ann, where patients are now receiving medical attention at a minimal cost.

According to Michael, the foundation raises most of its funds from events held in New York such as an annual concert, 'a give-back dinner', a walkathon and a prayer breakfast.

Meanwhile, Kimberly said the experience of working in the foundation has been great, as she sees her work as an avenue for motivating and uplifting others.

And, while ministering at the Mt Pelier Baptist Church in Hanover recently, the teenager urged parents to be role models for their children.

"You have a responsibility for your children. You should live a life of example and be role models so that the children can see good attributes and this will impact positively on Jamaica," she argued.

"Homes are the building blocks of society, whatever happens there will spillover into the society."

Ellie Wilson, a friend of the Harrises, who volunteered her time to travel with the family from New York to assist this year, said the foundation is doing a great job.

"The work of the foundation is amazing. I have never seen anything like this before. I am here (Sandy Bay) and working hard like never before, but it is a blessing. I would prefer to do nothing else, than to do this work right now, because I am seeing the results."

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