Since March 2015, hundreds of persons have been empowered through the Welfare, Health, Education, Empowerment and Local Community (WHEEL) Fund, established by the Central Jamaica Conference (CJC) of Seventh-day Adventists.
The organisation spends more than $7 million annually in education grants for students in St. Catherine, Clarendon and Manchester, and recently it responded with financial and other support to a St. Thomas student who had been facing hardships at a university.
It also helps persons with medical bills, such as major operations; the setting up of business enterprises, and the mentoring of young people.
While the Fund is church-based, deriving its money mainly from members of the denomination, its focus is about meeting the needs of individuals, whether or not they are members of the church. The only requirement is to prove their situation.
Recently, on learning of a family in Mocho, Clarendon, which, despite its limitations, had been helping other families in distress, the Board of WHEEL and the CJC committed funds to provide them with a two-bedroom house, and other amenities.
“We were moved, because this struggling couple with their two children have opened their home to individuals who have been abused; some had nowhere to live,” President of the CJC, Pastor Levi Johnson, tells JIS News.
“So, when we got the profile of the persons whom they were assisting, the only thing that we could have done is to assist with this project, and we are happy to do so,” the President adds.
For her part, Sandria Madden says the two additional rooms will help her to fulfil her dream of rescuing more families who from time to time fall on hard times. She notes that the structure will be named Home of Refuge.
Mrs. Madden points out that her house has been without electricity for four years, as she is unable to pay the $1.5 million to the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) to run the wire from a distance to the home.
Additionally, she says her chicken business of 500 birds has been crippled due to the lack of electricity and the curtailing of another business venture, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are extremely rich, but not financially, we are very happy. It is not about financials for us. Once you are blessed with anything, it is enough to share,” Mrs. Madden says, adding that even though the family is without light, she recently completed a university degree in social work, and her children maintain good grades at school.
Meanwhile, Pastor Johnson says that prior to the setting up of WHEEL, the Conference wrestled to find ways to meet the needs of its members and persons in the wider community, as the regular tithes were not enough.
“Mr. Michael Spence (Chairman of WHEEL), then came to the administration with a draft as to how we could use our numbers to work for us,” he says.
After much tweaking and adding other things to the proposal, “we came up with the WHEEL initiative, and the impact has been significant,” the President says.
He notes that persons seeking help from the Fund are properly investigated and assessed with urgency, as red tape should not stand in the way of extending help when people are in dreadful circumstances.
“We are not partial, and the assistance is delivered quickly. Once we discover that the individuals are in need, we assist them. We are committed that whatever funds we get, we are going to use it to assist,” Pastor Johnson tells JIS News.
Second-year university student, Davia Graham, says when she applied to enrol for tertiary training, she had no idea where the money would come from, and a friend encouraged her to seek help from WHEEL.
“I applied and got some financial help, and I am extremely grateful. It is not just financial, but it is also about mentorship,” she says.
Another college student, Patrine Harrison, informs that her mother was unable to finance her advanced training, and within one month of applying to WHEEL, help came for her first and second years in college.
“That helped me tremendously, because I was able to sit my exams, and I am really thankful. Without them, I don’t know if I would have had other opportunities,” she shares.
In the meantime, Michael Marilyn, who recently got help from the group to revive his small business after it was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, says he is grateful for the help he received.
“I could take my time and balance the venture, and we have to thank them for what they did,” he says.
Mr. Spence tells JIS News that he is thankful to contributors to the Fund, adding that the objective of the operation is to “make the lives of people a little better”.
“So, if you are sick, going to school, need help with start-up of a small business, and we can help, persons should visit the CJC website and obtain details of how they can apply for assistance, or donate to the organisation,” he says.
The Chairman notes that the only obligation they expect from beneficiaries is to extend kindness to other persons.
“We are empowering people, and once we are able to help people, those moments are my proudest moments. When you look back at how many school fees we have paid, and those young men and women becoming functional citizens in our country, it makes you feel very good,” Mr. Spence tells JIS News.