Over the past 28 years, New York-based charity Children of Jamaica Outreach (COJO) has endeavoured to enhance the lives of underserved youth in Jamaica and the United States.
Under the leadership of Gary Williams, founder and chairman of COJO, the non-profit organisation has remained steadfast in its mandate to give back to underprivileged youth, even amid the economic challenges that have resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recognising that education is a right, not a privilege, Williams this year, with the help of various sponsors, has continued to give back in a very meaningful way, by providing life-changing tertiary scholarship awards to 10 wards of the state to pursue or complete tertiary level education.
The recipients, who were selected based on their academic record and financial need, are Megais Simpson, Aneka Gardner, Derval Reid, Thembeka Jarrett, Tianna Campbell, Lechelle Walker, Sahaine Brown, Janet Lafayette, Sashel Walters and Rohane Grey.
They are among 445 youth currently enrolled in the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) Transitional Living Programme.
Among the diverse group of scholarship awardees are Jamaica’s future lawyers, entrepreneurs, teachers, coaches, linguists, software engineers and financial controllers, who have overcome life’s many obstacles and dared to dream.
Making her address at the scholarship awards luncheon, held at the AC Marriott Hotel in St Andrew on Wednesday (May 18), Minister of Education and Youth Fayval Williams congratulated the students for making it this far and urged them to continue to excel.
“You’ve done well. You demonstrated resilience, you did not allow the challenges of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic to overwhelm you and distract you from what’s important,” said the minister.
For his part, Williams spoke briefly of the mission of the scholarship programme which was introduced in 2012.
He informed that, despite life’s challenges, many of the wards of the state have done exceptionally well and, as a result, “we figure that we’d help them get into university and give them the tools to become productive citizens”.
COJO was able to award scholarships worth up to US$5,000 to the students, thanks to donations from scholarship sponsors GraceKennedy Group Limited, JetBlue Airlines, Nestle, Sandals Resorts International, Jamaica National Bank and Sagicor.
Speaking with Our Today, Aneka Gardner, COJO scholarship recipient and a second-year student at the University of the West Indies, Mona, shared how being awarded the scholarship would change her life.
“When I learned that I was going to receive this scholarship, I was honestly in tears,” stated Gardner.
“Because I don’t know how I would have made it through my second year of university without it.”
The language and communications major told Our Today that she and her older sister, who now attends the University of Technology, both grew up in the Jamaican foster care system.
Despite not having the easiest life, she remained determined to achieve her goals, fueled by her desire to not be a victim of circumstance.
“I know what I want and I’m going to go for it,” said the 22-year-old.