Gary Williams (right), chairman and founder of Children of Jamaica Outreach (COJO), presents a cheque to Megais Simpson while Marcia Erskine, communication consultant for COJO, looks on

NOT allowing circumstances to deter them, three former wards of the State remained focused and will be taking the next steps toward accomplishing their academic goals.

The three are among 10 students who received scholarships valued at US$40,000 in total through Children of Jamaica Outreach (COJO) at its annual scholarship luncheon programme which was held last Wednesday at the AC Hotel in St Andrew.

Founder of the New York-based charity Gary Williams told Career & Education that he was impressed with the students’ academic performance.

“They are doing excellent. I worked along with the Child Development Agency in the selection process. They are all special, but I think this year, because of the pandemic and the difficulties they had in the past like not being able to have face-to-face learning, when I heard the results of these kids, it was excellent,” he said.

Gary Williams (right), chairman and founder of COJO, and Alysia Moulton White, executive director, Sagicor Foundation, applaud Rohane Grey after he received his symbolic cheque at the scholarship luncheon

Twenty-year-old Sashell Walters, who is pursuing an associate degree in coaching at G C Foster College, shared that she got pregnant during high school but was determined to continue her studies at the Women’s Centre of Jamaica Foundation.

“Life was rough because when I was in high school doing track and field, I was doing so well, and I got pregnant and had my son in 2018. I went to the Women’s Centre. I decided to further myself in education and track and field to build a foundation for my son and be a role model for him,” she said.

Walters, who is from St Catherine, but spent most of her life in Trelawny, is an 800m runner at the school. She stressed that her love for track and field influenced her passion to teach other youngsters the techniques and skills required for that race.

“I am an 800m athlete and a long jumper also, but my main focus is on the 800m. I have done well on it, it’s a fun race. It would be a great opportunity to create more athletes in that area of track and field. I chose it because not many 800m athletes are in the country so it’s good to actually help in developing more 800m runners,” she said.

From left, Alysia Moulton White, executive director of the Sagicor Foundation; Sashel Walters, a recipient of this year’s COJO scholarship; Rox-Ann Daley, youth banking representative at Jn Bank; and Gary Williams, chairman/founder of COJO, pose for a photo at the scholarship luncheon.

The COJO scholarship, she said, will give her an extra push to accomplish that dream.

“I am so grateful for this opportunity. I want to be a motivation for others to let them know that if you fall you can get back up and reach the goal you have set. I am from a family where we were told we wouldn’t reach anywhere. I would be the first to graduate high school with subjects and the first to complete college,” added Walters, who will be heading into her second year of college.

Nineteen-year-old Megais Simpson was equally delighted to receive the scholarship.

Founder of Children of Jamaica Outreach Gary Williams (second row,centre) ,facilitators, this year's sponsors' representatives, scholarship recipients during the annual scholarship luncheon programme which was held last Wednesday at the AC Hotel in St Andrew

He will embark on his tertiary journey at The University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona in August to study banking and finance and economics.

“It feels good because knowing where I’m coming from and to have this much privilege, I am grateful for it. I grew up in a children’s home for 10 years, then I was adopted by my uncle, and life wasn’t pretty,” he said.

Simpson explained that he developed a love for financial services during sixth form at St Elizabeth Technical High School, where he managed to place first in Jamaica and sixth in the Caribbean for the subject in the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination.

He said he is expecting to do well at The UWI and is encouraging his peers to stay focused.

“I want a little bit more challenge at UWI. I would tell students don’t focus on negative things their peers or anyone else is thinking about them, focus on what people who love you want for you,” he said.

Meanwhile, Rohan Grey from Hanover has big dreams too.

The 18-year-old is heading into his third year at College of Agriculture, Science and Education, where he studies agriculture production and food systems management.

“The reason I study food processing is because I am interested in it, and also food chemistry. It has been challenging, but you know you can overcome it once you’re prolific and consistent. I had life very rough, but you just have to work towards what you want,” he said.

Like Simpson, he also has a message for youngsters: “Maintain a positive focus and just do the right thing.”

The other students who received scholarships were Derval Reid, Aneka Gardner, Tianna Campbell, Lechelle Walker, Sahaine Brown, Janet Lafayette and Thembeka Jarrett.

BY BRITTNY HUTCHINSON, Career & Education reporter

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