Alrick Francis: From homelessness to university
He is not yet 20 years old, but Alrick has experienced a lot of upheavals in his young life. Coming from an unstable family life, facing many challenges and finally in his last year at high school, being forced to survive on his own.
His story could have been a whole lot different had it not been for his unending thirst for knowledge, dedication to be somebody and a solid church and school family behind him.
Francis shared with Family and Religion how his former school, Vere Technical High, and his church, Power of Truth Ministry in Mineral Heights, Clarendon, proved to be 'the parents' he really needed.
Today, he has almost completed his first year at the University of Technology (UTech), pursuing a major in finance and banking and a minor in human resource management and just being there is a miracle in itself.
The former head boy of Vere Technical has high praises for the Jamaica Aluminium Company (JAMALCO) Mentorship Club and will forever be grateful that he was encouraged by the dean of discipline to be a part of the programme.
Looking back, he marvels now that he doubted that God would have come through for him.
"Last summer, my church family went on an annual hotel trip for a weekend - being strapped for cash meant I didn't make it. At that point, I was homeless and resided at the church's office. On August 1, 2015, I remembered I went to the Lord seeking answers because school was to be opened on August 24 and not even a notebook was in my possession. For almost three hours, I was there praying and worshipping. When I paused to listen, to my surprise, I only got a one sentence response. That was 'I will take care of UTech.'
Francis said he was confused and he didn't see how it would be done. He wanted a more specific answer than that.
God's plan began to unfold when the dean of discipline contacted him with a request to write a letter to JAMALCO seeking assistance to start school.
With the letter done, she dropped it off at the company. Francis was overjoyed when he received a quarter of million dollars to go towards his educational expense.
He has since seen God's hand in his life in a very understanding landlord who even dropped the cost of the rent when he struggled to find the full amount. When he could not come up with what he owed, he again saw God's favour in the form of Muir Johnson, who deals with insurance and special needs at the school. She gave him information and introduced him to various grants and aids, ensuring he was financially cleared. His church family ensures he has food and 'pocket money'.
"Who could it be but Jesus? I am actually through with year one, I did not take a red cent out of my pocket or money from SLB and God kept his word," he said.
Francis, who hails from Lionel Town, said his mother left him at a tender age and he had no idea where his father was. After his grandmother died in 2007, stability as he knew it was no more.
His father came into his life for a brief period, but after living with one stepmother then the other, he was soon on his own again as his father was arrested and sent to jail for operating an illegal school.
A brief stint with one of his brothers and, according to Francis, he his refusal to forget about school and seek employment saw him being completely on his own.
After 'bouncing' with friends, he was eventually taken in by his church family.
But, again, misfortune struck and he was without a home. "This was how I ended up at the church's office from about May of last year."
Home comforts at the office for Francis was a face basin, toilet, and air-conditioning.
"That meant sleeping on chairs, roaming the streets to have a bath, going without food at times or feeding on dry food."
Francis said when the church family could, they would take him breakfast or dinner. Other times he would just trust box food. That was how he survived until he started UTech.
Through it all, though, Francis said he has never had the desire to give up "although he murmured a lot!"
He said he kept his focus by spending a lot of time in the Bible, praying, going to church, fasting, and maintaining his daily devotions.
He said his pastor often encouraged him to "keep courage".