Fifteen-year-old Sammoya Banton of Hampton School has assisted students in St. Elizabeth through her ‘Bring a Smile’ Foundation.
The Foundation was launched in August 2020 to assist and support families of children who have lost a parent, and cushion the challenges associated with the purchasing of books and other supplies for back-to-school.
The teen, through the support of family and friends, raised $90,000 to purchase the back-to-school items for nine students starting high school during the 2020/2021 academic year.
Each student received a school bag, dictionary, notebooks, textbooks, pencil cases, stationery items, geometry set, hand sanitisers and wipes.
Sammoya explains that the goal was to assist six students, but with the overwhelming support of her relatives and close friends, enough money was raised to extend aid to another three students.
Experiencing first-hand the psychological and financial drawbacks of losing a parent to cancer at a tender age, Sammoya says she felt compelled to give support to children who suffered the same fate.
“For me, losing my father had subconsciously affected me. We didn’t even know it was affecting me until we got to the root of the problem. I decided that some of these students, they might be going through the same thing. So, I wanted them to know that I am here for them, we care for them, we know that you will be okay and we know that there is somebody to talk to, so that’s why we had chosen those students,” she shares in an interview with JIS News.
“The Bring a Smile Foundation, when I thought of it initially, I was sitting one night and the idea of giving back to persons in need came to my head, persons who have lost a parent. Initially, I started off saying I would give back to six children and we were aiming for $60,000. We got $90,000 and decided that we can impact more people now, so we gave to nine persons,” she informs.
Sammoya says that following discussions with her mother, Nahalia Lynch, who is Principal at the Morningside Primary School near Junction, the students were selected based on their academic performance and need.
“Because my mother is a school principal, she had a close connection to some students going into high school, so we started at her school. We went through and we picked students based on how hard they had worked and their effort in school,” she explains.
Meanwhile, after learning that a schoolmate had been diagnosed with leukemia, Sammoya, through her Foundation, donated $10,000 to the student to assist with the cost for overseas treatment.
“We are still looking for contributions for her. When we started, we didn’t hear about her being sick, but as we went along, that came into the picture, so we said we would assist her,” Sammoya notes.
The Hampton School student says the joy etched on the faces of the students and parents who benefited from her initiative has further inspired her to expand the reach of the Foundation.
“The students were grateful, they were excited… and the parents were very grateful. It is not something I did for publicity; it’s just something that I wanted to do personally, but the reaction that we got from not just students but other persons was huge,” she tells JIS News.
“We want to raise even more money to give back, because we want to reach more students, not just [in] Morningside but next time from the other surrounding areas of St. Elizabeth and beyond,” she says.
The teen credits her mother with instilling in her at a very young age that rendering altruistic service to those in need is the virtue of selflessness.
She says her mother has always allowed her to follow her heart, which has led her to a passion to give back to her community in a great way.
“My biggest motivation [is my] mother. She has always been there for me. She is someone I can talk to about things going on in my life. She’s my safe space, she keeps me motivated, and she helps me to try to be the best part of myself through bad times and good,” she explains.
Sammoya’s mother says she is amazed at how her daughter used her personal pain to positively impact the lives of those in need.
“I am so proud of her. The death of her father was affecting her unknowingly and to see her using something that affected her negatively to positively impact others and to encourage them, motivate them and to let them know that she understands, she cares, I am here to support you, I have never been prouder,” she tells JIS News.
“I posted on social media the other day and said she is my biggest achievement [because] when I look back at her being 15 years old wanting to make this impact, the future really looks bright and I am really proud of her,” Ms. Lynch adds.