‘I can hold my head high’
Beneficiaries call for revival of Possibilities Programme
Jerome Bryson joined the Possibilities Programme at 16 years old after being out of school for two years since his father took him to Kingston out of the care of his mother in St Ann.
The now-suspended programme, which was birthed in 2001 and was implemented by the Office of the Prime Minister to target at-risk youth between 15 and 18 years old, changed his life.
“I don’t know the reason why I wasn’t going to any school, you know,” he told The Gleaner, reflecting on his journey. “I kept on asking my father, and he kept on telling me that him soon sort it out, and that day never come.”
He began to see the light when a friend enrolled in the programme invited him to join. The programme taught mathematics and English language, life skills, leatherwork and shoe repairs, and other forms of trade.
“I didn’t even know how to read. I know one and two words, but I couldn’t read that much,” said Bryson, who has been working at Den-All auto shop for eight years now.
At 18 years old, he expressed interest in learning a trade to Leroy Campbell, the programmes coordinator they affectionately called ‘Daddy Chief’, and Campbell made it happen.
“I came here to learn a trade – any trade. That was my choice. That’s where I met Mr Spence, my boss. He was next father to me. Him take up where Mr Campbell leave off,” said the 31-year-old.
The second-chance programme, which had a care centre, a skills training and employment centre, annual resocialisation camps, and a youth hostel, set him on a path to success – something he did not believe he could have attained.
“I can walk through my community and hold my head high, and people looking at me and saying dem proud of me, and stuff like that,” he said.
“Mi build up a little house fi miself and start a family,” added Bryson, who has a young daughter.
Orville Spence, the owner of the Den-All auto body repair shop, said he is very proud of how far Bryson has come.
“Him really come a far way,” Spence told The Gleaner, even before knowing that Bryson had been part of the Possibilities Programme.
Spence could not remember who had recommended young Bryson when he showed up at 18, expressing his desire to learn a trade.
CHANCE FOR NEW CHAPTER
The programme offered these young men a chance to start a new chapter without the stereotype of being homeless, windshield wiper, a bad man, illiterate, or underexposed.
Spence recounted an encounter with Bryson’s now-deceased father, who turned up at the workplace, exclaiming that “him don’t want him son to learn no trade. Him must go turn bad man”.
He said that Bryson has had tough learning moments but has shown immense interest and honourable honesty, so he continues to work with him.
Campbell, who worked at the centre throughout, said at any given time, they had up to 40 boys in attendance until the numbers started dwindling due to depleting resources. From a survey conducted by the centre with 33 participants, 11 of them were fatherless and assumed the role of breadwinner to provide for the family.
“A lot of these boys on the streets are not homeless. They leave home and live on the streets to hustle,” he said.
Entities such as the HEART Trust Foundation came on board, alongside the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information and the St Andrew Parish Church, which provided the building in the heart of Half-Way Tree for them to gather.
The programme became a statutory body in 2012, which meant that the Government was no longer directly responsible for it. In 2015, payments for teachers were cut, reducing teaching from 10 hours to six hours weekly for the young men, who were barely literate.
Campbell – like beneficiaries of the programme such as Bryson and Teomar Edwards, who is now a chef in New York – is heartbroken over the suspension of the programme due to a lack of funding.
Currently, with the status of the programme unknown, they are asking persons who are fully committed and passionate to come on board to resuscitate it. Along with funding, Campbell is calling for teachers, social workers, and mentors to provide guidance and assistance to get young men enrolled.
How you can help
Leroy Campbell can be contacted at 876-434-6709.