Feature
Children and staff from the Institute of Jamaica's Junior Centre pause for a photo op with staff of Reddie's Place of Safety during the handover ceremony. From left to right are: Miss Reddie, Care giver at Reddie's Place of Safety, Iyana Stewart, Sudent, Jaiden Whyte, student, Mrs. Clover Reddie-Brown, Manager of Reddie's Place of Safety, Ms. Kerri-Ann Palmer, Programmes Outreach Manager - East Street Junior Centre, Imani Stewart, Student, Machaela Jonas, Student, and, Rory Magnus, Student.
Photo: Contributed

Story Highlights

  • Not all heroes are adults or wear capes. The statement rings true for the Heroes for Children Project run by the Programmes Coordination Division of the Institute of Jamaica (IOJ) as they encourage children to consistently engage in heroic acts.
  • Referred to as the Junior Centre, The Programmes Coordination Division serves children at the primary and high school levels through engagement in the visual and performing arts and enrichment programmes inclusive of personal development, graphics and animation, reading and volunteerism.
  • In terms of volunteerism, the Junior Centre executes an annual project through which its students and teachers give back to children in state care homes.

Not all heroes are adults or wear capes. The statement rings true for the Heroes for Children Project run by the Programmes Coordination Division of the Institute of Jamaica (IOJ) as they encourage children to consistently engage in heroic acts.

Referred to as the Junior Centre, The Programmes Coordination Division serves children at the primary and high school levels through engagement in the visual and performing arts and enrichment programmes inclusive of personal development, graphics and animation, reading and volunteerism.

In terms of volunteerism, the Junior Centre executes an annual project through which its students and teachers give back to children in state care homes.

“We wanted our children to recognise that they can make a difference in the lives of others and become heroes despite their age and status. It is important that the children realise that their ‘little much’ can go a far way,” Kerri-Ann Palmer, Programmes Outreach Manager of the East Street Junior Centre, tells JIS in a recent interview.

The little heroes aged 6 to 17 are supported by adults who encourage them to explore their altruistic nature. Among them are 15 year old Imani Stewart and 17 year old Jaiden Whyte who were thrilled to be making an impact.

Imani says she was excited to demonstrate her creative talents and share in the experience with the wards. “It was a good feeling because they were my age and I got to show them that they have the potential to build on their talents,” she says.

Jaiden says he decided to participate in the project because, “I love to share my talent with people of all ages, especially those close to my age. So, when I heard that we would get to interact with the children at the home, I was thrilled to share my drumming skills along with love, kindness and happiness.”

Teachers and students of a drumming ensemble from the Institute of Jamaica’s Junior Centre perform for wards in state care at the Reddie’s Place of Safety. Behind them are children playing on swings.

 

Jaiden highlighted a special moment he witnessed at Reddie’s Place of Safety that solidified his reason for engaging in the project.

“At the home, there was a Christmas tree but there were little to no ornaments on it. So, our Art and Crafts teacher used some material she had and we taught the children how to make ornaments to decorate the tree. When we were done, I could see the joy on the children’s faces and that warmed my heart,” says Jaiden.

Activities for The Heroes for Children Project takes off in October of each year right after the observance of National Heroes Day. At that point, persons may register to participate in the drive to collect items for the targeted homes. This usually include toiletries, clothing and stationery for the children. The campaign ends early December.

During the search for a beneficiary in 2019, an opportunity presented itself. The team was introduced to Mathew 25:40, a home operated by the Mustard Seed Communities that caters to teenage boys.

“While that was not our major focus for the year, we made the time to host a drumming session with approximately 15 boys at the home. Our drumming instructor led the way with Afro- Caribbean rhythms and it was evident that the boys had the time of their lives as they learned about types of drums, sounds and technique,” Ms. Palmer tells JIS.

“We encourage our children and their parents to give with a willing heart. Give some of what they have in excess and in so doing, we teach them that a hero is really someone who is selfless and does things for the greater good, not for attention or acclaim. Give because it is right,” she continues.

In the 2019 project, the home of choice was Reddie’s Place of Safety in the community of Rollington Town in Kingston.

During the handover ceremony, the heroes of the Junior Centre, who are children themselves, performed a concert for the wards at Reddie’s Place of Safety. At intervals, the performers invited the wards on stage so that they could experience the thrill of tapping into and using their talents.

Teachers and students of a drumming ensemble from the Institute of Jamaica’s Junior Centre perform for wards in state care at the Reddie’s Place of Safety in December 2019. From left to right are: Jaiden Whyte, Iyana Stewart, Imani Stewart and Jordan Whyte. Behind the children is Mr. Milton Bonner, Drumming instructor

 

“To see our children from the Centre interacting with and giving to the children from the home was heartwarming. Most children want an opportunity to connect with someone like them, they want to know that they are cared for and I believe the interaction throughout the handover did just that,” says Ms. Palmer.

“As adults, we get a feeling of accomplishment for teaching children that they are not that dissimilar to others their age. The major differences are often where they live and the opportunities that are presented to them. When our kids take the lessons and apply them without prejudice, it means the world to us” she continues.

The team at the Junior Centre has high hopes and plans for the Heroes for Children Project.

“In 2020, we are aiming to be bigger and better! This year will be the tenth staging of the project and we want to be in a position where we can assist and work with multiple homes simultaneously,” says Ms. Palmer.

She shares that the focus for the Heroes for Children Project in 2020 is partnership. The Junior Centre wants to establish a sound relationship with state care homes for children.

“We are not just looking to expand the base of beneficiary homes but we are hoping to connect with them throughout the year and include the children in our enrichment programmes. The children need more than just a group of persons donating to them every now and then and the project aims to do that,” she says.

The Programmes Coordination Division of the IOJ began in 1940. At that time, it was the first junior lending library in Jamaica. Since then, the Centre has evolved to offer programmes in visual and performing arts.

In May 1996, the Junior Centre on East Street expanded its reach and the Greater Portmore Junior Centre was created. It serves the Portmore and Spanish Town areas of St. Catherine.

The Programmes Coordination Division serves approximately 100 students per academic year.

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