By SOOKMIN L. HARRIS
I am a teaching assistant at Northport High School, and I am proud to speak of the Miss Minnie’s Kids Jamaica Project. What started out as a small girl’s dream became a collaborative community project which has exceeded all of our expectations. Miss Minnie’s Kids Jamaica Project was founded in December 2003, in honor of my grandmother and matriarch of the family, who was born and raised in Cane Heap, Jamaica. Thanks to the support from the Northport-East Northport School District, Interact Club, Northport Rotary Club, Brownie Troop 1431, friends, and family, we are now a non-profit organization in Jamaica and in the U.S.A.
In 2002 a few weeks prior to the Christmas Season my grandmother, Miss Minnie, passed away. Although a trying time, upon setting up funeral arrangements we learned from members of the community that on Christmas day she would give the children in our rural county a pencil, book, and breakfast Christmas morning. It was important for our family that we continue her tradition, so that year we went to the store and purchased the items Miss Minnie would have normally given the children.
Weeks later we returned to the United States, broken hearted as our precious matriarch was gone, but also with a new passion to make sure our impoverished community of Cane Heap in Jamaica had something to look forward to on Christmas Day. My niece, and Northport High school alumni Jonathan Diah, told us she would forgo her presents for the Christmas and in turn give them to the children in Cane Heap for the following year. We told her to write a letter to the family asking to help with the efforts and thus a new era was born. As a family, we no longer give each other Christmas presents, instead we write an annual letter to all our friends and family asking for new and slightly used toys to be shipped to Jamaica for Christmas. From the years of 2003-2006, the project was a family operation, funded and organized by our family. At that point we were shipping approximately 3 barrels of toys, and distributing them Christmas morning. In 2006, we expanded to the general population, school clubs and Northport High School, and thus another New Era began.
The response was extraordinary! Mr. Bajaj, advisor to the Project Tolerance Club, Mr. Dennis, advisor to the National Honor Society, and Mrs. Mislowack, advisor to the Interact Club all eagerly responded wanting to help with the project. Additionally, Mrs. Mislowack introduced the project to the Rotary Club of Northport, who came on board and sponsored shipping of the barrels to Jamaica. We were then joined by Brownie Troop 1431 who purchased plastic barrels, as a means of helping the project while simultaneously providing the community with a mechanism of water storage during drought season.
Today, the advisors, administration, teachers, my colleagues, and, the school clubs all participate in this project for which my family and I are so grateful. We now send 9 barrels and three boxes containing books for the local school. We ship the barrels and boxes by November 17th, for them to be in Jamaica for Christmas. Since the initiation of the project, my family and I go to Jamaica to personally delivery them to make sure the gifts are received. Seeing the children’s faces, and joy in their eyes is when we really know everyone’s hard work has come to fruition.
WHAT DO I DO AS A VOLUNTEER
My job in Miss Minnie’s Kids Jamaica Project is to continuously liaise with potential sponsors and toy donors, organize the collection of toys throughout the year as well as the packing of the barrels, organizing shipment of the barrels and pick up in Jamaica, and finally distributing gifts Christmas Day.
WHY DO I VOLUNTEER
Jamaica is my home of origin. I am blessed and was given the opportunity to come to the United States and become a citizen. I have a home in Northport and my family and I have been given the opportunity through hard work and much sacrifice to better our lives. When I go to Jamaica and see our children of St. Mary I feel we can make a difference in their lives even if it be but one morning on Christmas.
WHAT ARE THE REWARDS OF VOLUNTEERING
It’s hard for me to explain rewards because it is not a cash flow…. It’s something within the heart. On Christmas morning or anytime a child receives a benefit from Ms. Minnie’s Kids there is a certain joy than is visible within them that if even for a moment is worth being a part of.
HOW CAN OTHERS GET INVOLVED WITH THE ORGANIZATION?
There are many ways to get involved some are financial, while others are service oriented:
To Parents / Extended Family
Miss Minnie’s Kids believes that if kids help kids, if kids become aware that there are children less fortunate than themselves and they willingly give up a toy of theirs to another child, they themselves will become more conscious and better global human beings.
A teaching moment indeed. There are many organizations to give during the holidays, however what makes this program unique is the assurance that whatever is given to the organization is delivered to the child. How do you get this assurance? Because our family members personally deliver these toys as evidenced by photos enclosed. Getting organizations and clubs involved is indeed an asset to Miss. Minnie’s Kids
To Family and Friends of Miss Minnie’s Kids
A financial gift is always welcome. Each year we have more donations of toys that are costly to ship overseas. With an increasing number of children coming to the event Christmas day, we must provide more food for breakfast. Additionally, transportation expenses to get the toys from the Loading dock to 2 hours away in the rural area of Cane Heap. All gifts are welcome, to help with these costs.