'We see this as a blessing for the less fortunate; it is well appreciated. I am from a poor background and GraceKennedy has helped me a lot, especially financially, with school fees and lunch money.'
Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
Describing GraceKennedy's contribution to education as "tremendous patriotism", Education Minister Ronald Thwaites says the company is "exemplary becasuse they have remained committed to the inner city and they have put down roots where they have been planted."
The minister's comments come following GraceKennedy's nomination for the prestigious 2012 Gleaner Honour Award in the category Education. The company was also nominated in the category Sports for its various contributions over the last 50 years.
Through two of its foundations, the GraceKennedy Foundation and the Grace and Staff Community Development Foundation, GraceKennedy contributes significantly to secondary- and tertiary-level education.
GraceKennedy said that over the past 25 years, its foundation has invested an average of US$23,000 annually in funding scholarships to tertiary-level institutions in Jamaica. These include the University of the West Indies, the University of Technology, and the Edna Manley College for the Visual and Performing Arts.
Similarly, through the Grace & Staff Community Development Foundation, the company has been providing homework assistance, scholarship and grants to young people from the Central Kingston area. This programme is funded by contributions from the staff which is matched 2-1 by the company.
As part of its intervention work in the homework programme, social workers help guide 400 students in four centres in Dela Vega City, downtown Kingston, Majesty Gardens and Barbican, who range from first form to university.
More than 100 students in the programme are attending universities. At the same time, 56 students get weekly support in the form of bus fare and lunch money through the intervention, which also benefits from the service of a full-time psychologist.
"Can we dream if two or three more companies were to give of themselves in this way, what an epitome of change there would be in the most depressed areas," said Thwaites.
He added: "Their assistance not only assists with the shortcomings of the education system but also the deficiencies of parenthood and the weaknesses of communities."
Frances Madden, general manager, Grace & Staff Community Development Fund, told The Gleaner that if as a country we can empower youth through education, "we are almost there".
"When we think about the youngsters who used to come here and what they used to say, and when we see them now, it is so rewarding," said Madden.
According to her, there was a time when inner-city children stayed away from community activities for the fear of being branded as being involved in politics. She said there has been a change in Central Kingston because of the knowledge that students have acquired.
She said that with the skills attained under the GraceKennedy programme, the children's self-esteem "becomes very high, their confidence level increases, their level of responsibility within the community improves as well as their level of participation in governance".
Christopher Rose, a 22-year-old student at the University of Technology (UTech), is one of the many beneficaries of GraceKenedy's outreach.
The Central Kingston resident said that while he was a student at Wolmer's Boys, he heard about the GraceKennedy outreach programme and sought to be a part of it.
"They have a mentorship programme where they assign mentors to each student and it has been helpful," Rose told The Gleaner.
Currently pursuing a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering, Rose said he may never have been able to reach this far had it not been for the assistance he has received.
"We see this as a blessing for the less fortunate; it is well appreciated. I am from a poor background and GraceKennedy has helped me a lot, especially financially, with school fees and lunch money," Rose said.
Madden said that students who attend the homework centre are also given a snack in the afternoon. She said the students pay $10 and they get a hot dog, consisting of two sausages and cheese.
"Sometimes a student might buy two hot dogs, he takes out the sausages and takes them home and that, with baked beans and rice, becomes the dinner. So while we are focusing on giving them something so that they will be filled to start the classes, it spins off on the family," explained Madden.
She said there have been many success stories associated with the programme, but said one of the encounters which touched her most is still unfolding.
"I remember a mother coming in here with two little boys one Thursday morning. She said 'Miss Madden, these are your children'. I said, 'My children?' she said, 'Yes, because me a go dead. The doctor say me a dead so me nuh want dem turn gunman, so me a leave dem with yuh'."
Madden said the woman, who was a mother of 16 children, said her girl children would take care of themselves but feared for her boys, who were slow learners.
Madden told The Gleaner that the boys were taken into the programme by GraceKennedy. She said they are currently going through various stages of educational training, fighting against the many social odds they have encountered, among them, the fact that their mother died four days after that visit to GraceKennedy to have them enrolled.
"If somebody is there to care, the children will not have to go astray," Madden said.
In the meantime, Caroline Mahfood, executive director of GraceKennedy Foundation, said GraceKennedy has been a trailblazer in giving back to the community though its foundations which have been in place for over three decades.
"It is obvious that the Government cannot fund education as they need to and it requires private-sector investment. The private sector is also overwhelmed too because you get so many requests, but I think partnership is very important," Mahfood said.
The GraceKennedy Foundation currently funds two chairs at the UWI — the Carlton Alexander Chair in Management Studies and the James Moss-Solomon Senior Chair in Environmental Management.
"When we invest in them, the impact is far-reaching, impacting graduate studies, undergraduate studies, research, and policy development for the country. It is a lot that they can do through their centres and through their work, so that is why we have invested in them," Mahfood said, while trying to be modest about the company's social contribution.