The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic did not stop the Jamaica Information Service (JIS) team from putting smiles on the faces of the 48 wards of the Mount Olivet Boys’ Home, through a back-to-school visit and virtual career day.
The boys were happy to see the small team from the agency, which had journeyed to the home located in Walderston, Manchester, to visit them and hand over much-needed school uniforms and other supplies for the new academic year.
Director of the home, Patrick Newman, expressed gratitude for the items, which were provided through support from various sponsors.
He noted that over the years, “the JIS has been providing back-to-school supplies – shoes, books, uniforms… so that these boys are equipped to go out and learn at their respective institutions. We have seen this bearing fruit based on some of the results that are coming out every single term”.
“We believe that if we educate our boys and train them, upon departure from the home they will be able to make better choices,” Mr. Newman added.
Virtual Career Day
The visit was highlighted by a career day event, where, through videoconferencing, the agency was able to connect the boys with experts in various fields, including forensic pathology, aviation, entertainment and the military.
During the session, the boys were given valuable insights into the professions and opportunities, to get answers to questions about possible career choices.
Mr. Newman told JIS News that the event positively impacted the boys, whose ages range from six to 18 years, particularly the older ones.
“Because of the event, a number of boys have said they want to join the army, and we have pointed them in that direction,” he noted.
He said that the home had welcomed eight additional boys over the past few months, and having benefited from the career day event, some of them are thinking of going into some of the areas that were outlined during the video presentations.
“It is going to help to shape the lives of the boys going forward,” he added.
The interest of a number of the boys in joining the army was as a result of the very interesting and engaging presentation from Lieutenant Shelly-Ann Irving from the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) Directorate of Training and Doctrine Division.
She highlighted the military as a haven and refuge for young, proud and zealous men and women who want to serve their country. “So, in some countries, it is a no-brainer that young men [especially] will join the army after exiting high school,” Lieutenant Irving said.
Boys who excel in the sciences were encouraged to consider a career in forensic pathology by Dr. Rainsford Fearon of the Institute of Forensic Science and Legal Medicine.
High interest was also sparked in careers in aviation by Pilot at Caribbean Airlines, Captain Brenton Borrows, while popular Comedian and Entertainer, Ian “Ity” Ellis highlighted the various areas in entertainment where the boys could enjoy a rewarding career.
The career day was in keeping with the thrust of the home to facilitate solid education and life skills guidance for the residents.
Efforts in this regard include a halfway house for those who have aged out of the State childcare system as well as plans to construct a skills training centre.
Speaking to JIS News about the recently commissioned transition facility, Mr. Newman informed that the facility caters to boys aged 16 to 18 years.
He highlighted the importance of providing career guidance for the young men as they prepare to exit State care.
“We have on the compound what we call a pre-independent facility. So at age 16, we move these boys into that space. At this [phase] they do things for themselves, so they cook and they clean with very little supervision. This, we believe, is necessary to help them learn how to be responsible, because the next phase would be either going home to their parents, going into boarding institutions, or going to [a] halfway house outside of the home,” Mr. Newman explained.
Mr. Newman told JIS News that some boys reached age 18 recently, and some of them have gone home to be reunited with their families and others were placed in a nearby Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA)-supported transition facility.
Impact of COVID-19
Addressing the issue of COVID-19 and the effects on the boys, Mr. Newman told JIS News that the situation has taken an emotional toll on some of them.
He noted that a number of boys who would normally have gone home to spend time with their families are not able to do so because of the restrictions in movement and the protocols that were established by the CPFSA.
Mr. Newman informed that the boys have benefited from counselling and in some cases psychological intervention, to help them cope and also better understand what is happening.
“These are boys who are full of energy, who used to go to school and other events outside the home and they are basically confined here, so it is taking a toll on them. But we are trying as much as possible to ensure that we get the help needed,” he said.
He told JIS News that the Children’s Officer from the CPFSA has held sessions with the boys “to help them understand and to ensure that at the end of this they come out stronger than when the pandemic started”.
Meanwhile, Mr. Newman expressed gratitude for the continued support from the JIS and other sponsors, particularly as many corporate entities have cut back on donations due to the impact of the ongoing pandemic.
JIS CEO, Donna-Marie Rowe, underscored the agency’s commitment to the home and the success of the boys.
“The JIS is your adopted family, and we are happy to have maintained this relationship with you and the home over these many years,” she said.
The JIS adopted the Mount Olivet Boys’ Home in 2009 and the facility remains the agency’s main corporate social responsibility project.
Sponsors of the back-to-school visit and career day event were the YB Afraid Foundation, Caribbean Broilers, Sagicor, Kingston Bookshop, Fontana Pharmacy, Lloyd J. Robinson and Associates, Gail Abrahams, and JIS friends and staff, who made contributions in cash and kind.