Otis James – Philanthropist Extraordinaire

Photo: Yhomo Hutchinson Education, Youth and Information Minister, Senator the Hon. Ruel Reid (left), converses with founder of the James and Friends Educational Programme (JFEP), Otis James, during a recent dinner at Moby’s Family and Recreation Centre in May Pen, Clarendon.

Story Highlights

  • For more than 12 years, Otis James, through his James and Friends Educational Programme (JFEP), has been providing scholarships to secondary and tertiary students, as well as children in primary schools, to ensure that they secure a sound education and do not suffer the misfortune that befell him when he dropped out of high school and had to resort to pushing a handcart in and around the May Pen Market to generate a livelihood.
  • While earning a living at the market, Mr. James, whose father disappeared from his life when he was two months old, put aside enough funds to help in furthering his schooling, and from there it was on to the Portmore Heart Academy, where he studied and gained certification as a plumber.
  • He initially started out helping five children, but the requests he received for assistance grew, so he sought support from a number of business interests and other stakeholders in the parish. However, they were not as forthcoming as anticipated.

Praises have been heaped on Clarendon native, Otis James, for his dedication to empowering youngsters in the parish with educational opportunities, and providing support to parents in need of assistance.

For more than 12 years, Mr. James, through his James and Friends Educational Programme (JFEP), has been providing scholarships to secondary and tertiary students, as well as children in primary schools, to ensure that they secure a sound education and do not suffer the misfortune that befell him when he dropped out of high school and had to resort to pushing a handcart in and around the May Pen Market to generate a livelihood.

“It was out of this crucible of hardships that a vision was born to help others who were in similar or worse circumstances in which he grew up,” states Education, Youth and Information Minister, Senator the Hon. Ruel Reid.

He was addressing a recent dinner in honour of sponsors of the JFEP, which was held at the Moby’s Family and Recreation Centre in May Pen.

While earning a living at the market, Mr. James, whose father disappeared from his life when he was two months old, put aside enough funds to help in furthering his schooling, and from there it was on to the Portmore HEART Academy, where he studied and gained certification as a plumber.

Thereafter, Mr. James was employed at the May Pen Hospital, where he became the head plumber.

He was subsequently recruited by the Clarendon Municipal Corporation, at which point he got involved in community activities that saw him extending assistance to some 300 schoolchildren identified to be in need of help, with support from more than 90 sponsors.

He initially started out helping five children, but the requests he received for assistance grew, so he sought support from a number of business interests and other stakeholders in the parish. However, they were not as forthcoming as anticipated.

Despite feeling frustrated and “disrespected”, Mr. James held on to his vision of making life better for those in need.

According to him, three business persons eventually responded to his pleas for assistance. They included Robert Burke Green, the principals of J.C. Bakery, and Garth Young. He said others who saw their response came on board to support the cause.

Senator Reid, who praised the work of the JFEP, notes that it was through “tireless efforts” that Mr. James was able to pull together representatives from different political persuasions to “invest in the lives of hundreds of Jamaicans facing social and economic challenges in their quest for an education”.

For University of the West Indies (UWI) second-year student, Samuel James, who is from a single-parent home, his goal of attaining a tertiary education might have been jeopardised had the JFEP not intervened to offer his family assistance.

He indicates that after graduating from high school, support from JFEP enabled him to enrol at the UWI, adding that the benevolence of strangers gave him a “chance to achieve my full potential… (and) changed the course of (my) life”.

Another beneficiary, Renae Knight, says the organisation helped her to enrol at the university, and during times when the fees could not be paid, Mr. James sourced help for her.

Miss Knight contends that the programme allows young people to be empowered through community service and volunteerism, while getting the opportunity to shine.

“James and Friends Education Programme, is not solely based on sending students to school, but is geared towards the holistic development of the students,” she says, adding that she had to succeed with the help afforded to her.

“Giving up is an insult to those who have helped and believe in you. I am closer to the end than the beginning,” Miss Knight adds.

Several parents and caregivers attending the dinner also lauded Mr. James for the support he has extended and continues to provide.

Describing the 36-year-old, whose dream was to become a mathematics teacher, as a “blessed man”, Senator Reid says his work is “exemplary” and a story of human kindness worthy of emulation.
“This makes us proud, inspires us in all humanity to give of ourselves, as we make Jamaica a better place. Continue to support this fine Jamaican,” he contends.

Custos Rotulorum of Clarendon, Hon. William Shagoury, is appealing for continued support of the organisation, which has a board of various professionals, and community volunteers, with its office located at 3 Brooksedge Avenue in May Pen on lands leased from the Clarendon Municipal Corporation.

Mr. James, who is held in high regard by his fellow parishioners, was in 2014 bestowed with the Corporation’s honour for dedicated philanthropic work.

He says his primary goal is to see the young people finish school and obtain meaningful jobs or enter into business.

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