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Miss P, the matriarch of Woodford Park

Published:Friday | October 16, 2015 | 12:00 AMJodi-Ann Gilpin
Maxene Richards from Woodford Park in Kingston.
Maxene Richards helps two girls with their reading.

When you visit the five-bedroom dwelling of Maxene Richards, you will notice that every room has been transformed into a small school setting, or just a place to meet and talk.

The 59-year-old, who is described as a heroine by several residents of the Woodford Park community in Kingston, has been hailed as the epitome of selflessness and dedication.

"When I came to live in this community, I was struck by the high rate of violent activities. I was very uncomfortable with the division so I decided I must do something about it," she re\called.

That determination along with endless passion to help people has led to the formation of several community groups, including the Woodford Park Strikers Youth Club, which has participated in and won several sporting competitions, and an annual summer school which she started in 2008.

"I have up to 160 children here every summer, so this is not your normal house. I hardly have any furniture in my house. I have removed everything, (leaving) just my beds and other items that I might need. I will do anything to help people," she declared.

"This place (her house) is called the headquarters because, first of all, we do not have a community centre, so any meeting, community events and discussion is done right here. I just can't say no. If someone comes here and I can't help them, deep down I feel very bad. I believe I was born for this," she continued.

propelled by belief in education

The St Thomas-born woman, who is affectionately called, 'Miss P' told The Gleaner that despite the challenges of low sponsorship and lack of resources, her belief in a solid educational foundation propels her to give of herself to the community, especially its children.

"We started out with chicken back and bag juice. That's what the students used to get for lunch, but I am so happy that I didn't give up because you discover so many things. Many children are not registered, some are slow learners and others just need special guidance and while I am not an expert in any of these areas, I try and look for help," said the mother of two boys.

"Trained teachers have come on board, persons from NYS (National Youth Service) and some from the community, just to make sure that the children get the best. Everything is free. Children don't have to pay a cent and now we step up from chicken back to chicken and sometimes a little beef," she said with a burst of laughter.

"I have to thank the minister (Julian Robinson) because we are able to give a little stipend because the truth is some people in the community, the only time dem get a likkle work is when summer school time come. Whether it's a little sweeping or clean up."

She admitted that a critical aspect of her personal life had to suffer as a result of her selflessness - her marriage.

"You know how much time mi sleep at KPH (Kingston Public Hospital) and UC (University Hospital of the West Indies) wid people? In di middle of my sleep people come knock on my door and say dem sick and need a ride, and I can't say no. Therefore if your partner is not on the same page it can cause conflicts," she said.

"When I cook, no less than 14 people get food. If you see the big pots and spoon in my kitchen. Right now I want to take a vacation but I just don't want to leave the people. I never get weary. Sometimes I have conflicts here and there but helping people is never a bother. I will do it till I die," she said.

A member of the community's football team, Craig Scott, indicated that Richards has been a tower of strength for many youths in the area.

"I don't know what some of us would do if we didn't have the football club. It take away nuff stress and keep us out of trouble. Miss P is like mi mother, she is a saviour," he said.

"In front of her face and behind har back, Miss P a good woman. She never change yet and she is very willing," Annie Henry, another resident said.