JDF, Guardsman offer hope to boys
Up to 75 boys between the ages of eight and 15 are set to benefit from a summer intervention programme targeting at-risk youngsters. The programme which is being spearheaded by the Guardsman Group of Companies is a joint collaboration which includes the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), the St Andrew Parish Church and the Hope Zoo. It gets underway on July 3 and runs until September 2.
It's called the JDF/Guardsman Boys of Hope programme and will run for five days per week for three weeks at a time, at the Hope Zoo facilities.
Director of Operations at Guardsman, Lieutenant Commander George Overton, said the boys are drawn from a programme currently run by the St Andrew Parish Church. They come from mostly volatile communities in parts of lower St Andrew and Kingston's southern belt.
"A lot of these kids are outside the guidance of their parents and that's how they get into the St Andrew Parish Church programme in the first place," Overton told The Gleaner when asked whether the parents of the boys selected had bought into the programme.
"What we are looking at is bringing them into this environment and exposing them to others. We want the Hope Zoo to teach them care, love and a softer side to life. The JDF will help to build their confidence, leadership ability and skills and their deportment. The army will also focus on helping the boys develop their team-building skills," said Overton. "With those we believe we lay a solid foundation and then what we want to do is we bring in some of the persons who can be seen as role models within the society to speak to them," he added.
BATTLING A NATIONAL CRISIS
Overton pointed out that the role models, who, in the main will be drawn from the business community, will speak about their own life experiences and their own beginnings. The former army man argued that there are many successful Jamaicans who grew up in similar circumstances as these at-risk boys who have gone on to make a success of their lives. "We believe that their life stories will show the boys that if I choose the right path I too can succeed."
"What we want to do is to bring all of that together and hopefully over the course of three weeks we can divert these youngsters from the wrong path. At the end of the day what we hope to do with this (intervention programme) is to cut off the supply line to those who become part of the criminal network. We want to divert them to the good side of the fence."
When asked why the Guardsman Group undertook the intervention programme at this time, Overton said: "We believe that we are a nation in crisis. We are grappling with what are the solutions to the problem. A lot of the country is looking to the government for the fix. The fix belongs to all of us."
Overton noted that there are a number of programmes across the country that currently target young people. However, he said he has observed that in many cases, the intervention starts way beyond the formative years, around 16 years old. Hence the reason the JDF/Guardsman Boys of Hope programme includes boys as young as eight years old.
For his part, Lieutenant Aaron Gabriel, one of the JDF soldiers who will be involved with the programme, said the involvement of the army is not necessarily a reaction to the current crime situation. He noted that the JDF is always looking to contribute to society in a meaningful way. "This is just another opportunity for us to contribute in that way he explained while pointing out that there are other intervention programmes with which the JDF is actively involved.