The philanthropic arm of the Jamaica National Building Society, the JN Foundation, has come to the aid Children First, the Spanish Town, St Catherine-based facility established to assist out-of-school children who fall between the cracks in the education system.
With Children First education programme facing certain closure after its main source of funding from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) ended last December, the JN Foundation has provided the cash to continue the programme.
"We struggled," recalls Claudette Pious, executive director of Children First.
"We sold box juice, bag juice, and cake. We tried every possible fund-raising effort. We begged. We went to the media. We went to the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Youth. We were at our wits' end," added Pious.
She said in its search for a solution the organisation had dialogue with the Violence Prevention Alliance, another not-for-profit organisation, and was introduced to the JN Foundation.
Pious noted that the funding from JN Foundation will, in addition to helping to maintain the offerings of the programme, assist with hiring a coordinator and conducting parenting workshops to empower the parents of the children in the programme.
Speaking at the agreement ceremony at the Monk Street office of Children First recently, Saffrey Brown, general manager of the JN Foundation, commended Pious and her team for the results achieved by Children First.
According to Brown, entities such as Children First are crucial to national development and should be supported.
"There is an urgent need for institutions, such as Children First, to fill the gap where the state cannot cope with the variety of vulnerable young people who fall outside of the formal system," said Brown.
"Positive programmes, such as this one, needs to be supported, if we are serious about improving our labour force, eradicating child labour and reducing the incidence of crime."
About 40 per cent of the more than 100 students, empowered by Children First annually, are reintegrated into the formal school system, while others are placed in state programmes, which allow them to access further training, certification and employment.
One celebrated case is that of John Michael Nelson, a videographer at the Portmore, St Catherine- based Cable News and Sports (CNS) Television.
When he graduated from high school two years ago in St Catherine, Nelson seemed destined to become part of the "so-called unattached youth population". However, he was fortunate to find the Children First programme.
"I was 17, and after graduating from Spanish Town High School I did not have anything to do," stated Nelson.
He sought to enrol in a HEART/National Training Agency programme; however, his qualifications did not meet the requirements.
"Then one day I was walking in Spanish Town and saw the Children First building ... and I said I was gonna check it out."
It offered him and many other 10-17-year-olds the opportunity to learn skills in areas such a barbering, photography, and cosmetology; as well as a chance to improve their numeracy and literacy skills and learn important life lessons.
Through the programme at Children First, Nelson was accepted into an internship at CNS and, based on his performance, he was able to secure a full-time job.