Fri | Sep 25, 2020

Special needs children get Christmas surprise

Published:Thursday | December 14, 2017 | 12:00 AMPaul Clarke
Mark White (second left), director of Sanmerna Foundation, kisses Sophia Sutherland even while she shares her drink with Danae Dehaney (right). Jamar Pusey is tickled pink. They were pictured at the foundation’s surprise Christmas treat for more than 200 disabled children at the Half-Way Tree Transport Centre yesterday.

It might as well be Christmas Day for more than 200 special needs children who were feted by the Sanmerna Foundation in conjunction with the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) at the Half-Way Tree Transportation Centre yesterday.

Gifts and food apart, they were treated to a feast of musical delights from the Pembroke Hall High School Band, which was a big hit with many of the children, who danced and sang along.

Viris Clarke-Ellis, president of the Sanmerna Foundation, said that the company latched on to the idea after they were approached by employees of the JUTC, daily providers of specialised transportation for members of the public with disabilities.




"We were approached about being a sponsor of the event, and there was no way that we could have said no to the idea. It gave birth to what we are witnessing here," Clarke-Ellis said.

"It was the perfect way for the foundation to give love to a segment of our society, many of whom are often ignored. And as you witnessed here, they fully enjoyed the moment of fun and music," she said.

The children were from 10 institutions, including Hope Valley Experimental, Genesis Academy, and the Danny Williams School for the Deaf. The Maxfield Park Children's Home will also receive from the foundation this Christmas.

"This is more than simply our corporate responsibility. It is our human and national responsibility to our children. The treat is a way to say that we appreciate the families of our country, and we provide through funding and scholarships a way out for many," Clarke-Ellis said.

The idea for the event began with a mere discussion between two JUTC employees, Stephanie Joseph and Anita Atkinson-Deans, who said that they saw the need to offer some merriment to children with disabilities this season.

"We just felt it important to share this Christmas season with them. It was a burning desire we shared, and we are happy about its outcome," Atkinson-Deans said.

'These are children who also need to be shown love'

Operations Manager at the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) Keith Blake tells of his delight in hosting a Christmas treat for disabled children. He told The Gleaner that it was an essential part of their outreach this year to offer something to special needs commuters.

"These are children who also need to be shown love at this time of the year, and apart from providing transportation to and from school and places of work for the adults, we wanted to give something back to them," said Blake.

The JUTC has three buses in rotation for persons with special needs, however, Blake said that ideally, a few more are required.

"It is a very important service we offer, but apart from that, it is my wish to see more of our people with disabilities being employed. Too many of them cannot find work in the formal sectors. That is why we have taken this small step to show our support," he said.

Sanmerna Paper Products is a Jamaican company owned and operated by brothers Robert and Mark White.