Helping persons in her community is a way of life for Olive Parkins-Smith, who has been serving the Diaspora in Canada over several years.
Born in Jamaica, she migrated to Canada in 1975 where she began giving back and assisting her fellow Jamaicans.
Mrs. Parkins-Smith said her service to community began at the tender age of 18 years when she volunteered to teach an adult literacy programme in Jamaica.
“I think that cemented my whole resolve to serve because it was the most gratifying and humbling experience to be teaching adults who, when they were able to write their names or read a sentence, you saw the tears of joy of accomplishment,” she said.
On Monday, October 17, she was conferred with the Badge of Honour for Meritorious Service for outstanding contribution to the Jamaican Diaspora in Canada.
She was among the 221 people recognised at the National Honours and Awards Ceremony held at King’s House on National Heroes Day.
“It’s very humbling because I didn’t know anything about it. It came as a great surprise to me. It is humbling because it tells me that my peers have seen and recognised the work that I am doing,” she told JIS News after receiving the award.
“But this award that I received is one not just for me, because without the support and the cooperation of a lot of people in the trenches, I wouldn’t be able to do what I have done,” she added.
Mrs. Parkins-Smith said she learnt the art of volunteerism from her late grandfather, a retired principal, who demonstrated and taught her about helping others, to show kindness and to be empathetic.11111
“Without my grandfather setting that foundation, I wouldn’t be where I am today and be able to do the work to help those who really need it,” she said.
Shortly after migrating to Canada, Mrs. Parkins-Smith began working with several agencies to assist Jamaicans at home and in Canada to achieve a better way of life.
There, she responded to a call from the Toronto District School Board to identify and help immigrant children who were having issues adjusting to their new environment in Canada.
“I volunteered to work with the kids because having lived in Jamaica, I could relate to them and I was able to offer some mentoring, encouraging them and putting them on the right path,” she said.
She later volunteered with the Legal Aid Clinic in the Jane Finch “Corridor” to assist families faced with legal and other societal issues.
“I went from door to door in an area where people thought I was crazy to go just to tell people what was available because there are legal services that were available but a lot of them were not aware of it …so I did that for a while,” she recalled.
Later, she along with her husband, co-founded a summer basketball programme for children, aged 12 to 19 years in the Lawrence Heights area. She said the aim was to keep the children, mostly boys off the streets. The youngsters also received guidance and assistance in various areas, including academic and extracurricular activities.
The former student of Rusea’s High School said she started the Alliance of Jamaican Alumni Associations (AJAA), a charitable umbrella organisation comprising Toronto-based alumni associations.
Mrs. Parkins-Smith founded the Annual Care and Share Christmas Programme in 2003, to assist needy Jamaican families, seniors, the disabled and international students who cannot make it home for Christmas. The programme was adopted by the AJAA in 2005 and assists over sixty families annually.
Currently an advisor to the Association, she has served as president, first and second vice president and social director. She has also helped to start a graduate programme for young people of Jamaican descent, graduating from high school.
Over the years, Mrs. Parkins Smith has received numerous awards in recognition of her commitment and hard work.
She has received the TD Bank Recognition for Community/Volunteer Work, the Jamaican Consulate General Award for outstanding community service, the Province of Ontario Award for Volunteer Service, and the Jamaica Ex-Soldiers Award for exceptional contribution to the association.