Sun | Oct 25, 2020

RISE Life rescues man with gambling addiction

Published:Wednesday | October 14, 2020 | 12:09 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer
Shawn McGregor, programmes manager, RISE Life Management Services.
Shawn McGregor, programmes manager, RISE Life Management Services.

FOR THREE decades, RISE (Reaching Individuals through Skills and Education) Life Management Services has been impacting the lives of vulnerable populations in Jamaica.

John James*, 40, began a career in the gaming industry in 2009 and was trained in responsible gaming by RISE, a programme funded by the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Commission.

“I have always gambled. I always buy Cash Pot or I feel a likkle sumn and I buy Lotto or Lucky Five. But working in the industry, you see people win large amounts or you like a game and get caught up, not realising that you are spending so much money to enjoy a game that you love. It was a game that caught me,” he recounted.

He had no idea that in 2018, he would have to be saved by the same non-governmental organisation (NGO).

“I started to go to the gaming lounge every time I got a little extra time on my hand. I started to spend more than I should – going out of the way to get money, borrowing, going into my savings,” James said.

NEGLECTED FAMILY

He was so consumed with gambling that he neglected spending time with his common-law wife and his child and squandered more than $1 million in a year.

RISE Programmes Manager Shawn McGregor said the responsible gaming prevention, treatment and training programme has seen the sensitisation of 17,250 primary and secondary students, more than 3,000 parents and 606 gaming lounge staff.

“We train workers in the casinos and the gaming industry at large. We also have a voluntary self-exclusion programme, so if you decide that you want to pull away from gambling, we can make arrangements with the gaming facility to bar you from entering,” McGregor explained.

Looking back, James said he recognised that he needed to take control of his gambling lifestyle and sought help where he knew it was available.

“I would eventually have to stop, but probably I would have done more damage if it wasn’t for RISE,” James said.

He enrolled in the self-exclusion programme for 12 months and is currently managing his addiction.

Executive Director Sonita Morin Burrowes told The Gleaner that her vision is for a Jamaican society where youth and other vulnerable populations are empowered to make healthy lifestyle choices, in a supportive and rehabilitative environment.

Over the years, the NGO has designed and implemented numerous community-based social interventions and provided student support and mentorship.

RISE was formerly Addiction Alert, which was set up to provide outpatient drug treatment in Barbican, St Andrew.

At that time, crack cocaine was ‘peaking’ in Jamaica and all participants were addicts – some also abused alcohol and ganja.

“We are still very much in touch with some of those folks who were in the very first treatment programme,” revealed Morin Burrowes.

Three years into the programme, the NGO was struggling to find funding and so the decision was made to diversify and to go into more prevention work – primary and secondary, rather than just tertiary, which is treatment.

“For many years, we operated only in Kingston and St Andrew and we got many requests to move our interventions outside of this area. We work now in basically all the parishes – we don’t have offices but what we have are partners,” the executive director said.

Fifty-one civil society organisations have been trained and supported in NGO management techniques over the last five years, and are established in the different parishes.

With at least eight community projects each year, 107,000 people have been directly impacted and 275,000 indirectly.

*Name changed

judana.murphy@gleanerjm.com