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Mentorship programme targets primary-school children

Published:Wednesday | October 16, 2019 | 1:49 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer
Managing director of the Friends of a Child Help Foundation Jason Evans with mentee Richardo Whyte.
Managing director of the Friends of a Child Help Foundation Jason Evans with mentee Richardo Whyte.

For Bridgette Spence, her 10-year-old grandson, Derrick Palmer, is a changed person. She credits this change to the Friends of a Child Help Foundation, which has mentored him for the past four months.

Spence was contacted by of the vice-principal of Jones Town Primary School and informed that Palmer had been selected to participate in the programme. She later attended a seminar that educated parents and guardians about the objectives of the foundation.

“He’s stubborn, and that’s why they reached out to us. From dis sumn and him get pan di programme, is a changed Derrick. Nadine (his mentor) comes, and she treat him so good. Whole heap a changes mek,” said a joyful Spence.

“She comes to the house, goes to his football match, carry him out, and even assist him with back-to-school.”

The Jones Town Primary School student was recently given the leadership responsibility of a class monitor.

The foundation’s managing director, Jason Evans said the work began in December 2016 with an act of kindness that benefited three children in his Bull Bay, St Andrew, community.

He spoke with their parents after noticing that they were not very happy and were wearing worn clothes.

“I took them shopping the next available day. I brought them downtown, and they chose whatever they wanted, and they were happy. It was the first time they had ever been shopping – the joy that came from their faces. I said if I did this small gesture for them and it had such an impact, why not start something bigger?” said Evans.

The foundation went on to locate other less fortunate families, who were taken out for Christmas and assisted throughout the year.

Things would take a turn after Evans and an executive member of the foundation travelled to the United States early 2019.

“I didn’t want to just give to a child and leave them because I realised that they were lacking, and I was always interested in mentorship. We found an organisation in Portland, Oregon, that does similar work, so we had a meeting with them, and we liked what we saw in terms of structure, so we came back to Jamaica in April of this year and changed the direction of the foundation.”

What the foundation now offers is a long-term mentorship programme particularly for at-risk children who are living in inner-city communities.

Each child, after selection by a guidance counsellor or principal, is paired with an adult who spends four hours per week interacting with them one on one.

“We start with the primary-aged children because we believe these are the years in which we have the most impact, and our mentors will spend a minimum of three years with their mentees. Even if they graduate from the primary level and go on to high school, if the three years doesn’t lapse, the mentor will continue to work with the child,” Evans explained.

To foster greater commitment to the children, the foundation uses trained mentors who are paid a monthly stipend to cover their travel expenses to the mentee’s community and school.

Ten children are currently enrolled in the programme, which is being piloted in Kingston and St Andrew, and the foundation’s aim is to impact children across all parishes. Along with his executive duties, Evans also mentors young Richardo Whyte.

Through the Ministry of Education, the foundation also provides parental training to the parents and guardians of the mentees.

Evans said that funding is a challenge but that he has committed a portion of his salary as an underwriter to the mentors’ stipend and has sought the assistance of individuals who have pledged their contribution.