Observer graduation gifts to 180 inner-city school students

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The Jamaica Observer is providing 180 students from 15 schools, mostly in inner-city communities, with outfits to attend their graduation proms at the end of this academic year.

The gesture is the brainchild of Natalie Chin and her team in the newspaper’s Advertising, Marketing, and Communications Department. She explained that it had its foundation in the Observer‘s June 2009 story relating the desire of 16-year-old Jonathan Grant High School student Charmonique Willis who wanted nothing more than to attend her graduation that year.

However, Charmonique was worried that her prosthetic legs were so worn they would not have held up until the end of that month.

The artificial legs were cracked in several places and the straps were worn, forcing her to resort to using pieces of bandage to strap them to her thighs.

It turned out that Charmonique had outgrown the pair of artificial legs she had received when she was 11 years old. In addition, the fact that she had to travel nearly 20 miles by public transportation from her home in Point Hill, St Catherine to Spanish Town and another mile from the taxi stand to school, resulted in the prosthetic legs severely bruising her skin.

Her mother, Alethia Willis, said she had been trying to get a new pair of legs for the teen. However, she was only able to make a down payment of $50,000 on the full cost of $97,000.

The story drew immediate response from many readers who not only paid the balance on the new prostheses, but helped to prepare the teen for her graduation. Among them were Chin and her team.

“We decided as a group to send her to prom. So we got the shoes, the dress, make-up, and got her to go,” Chin recalled, adding that the team felt a sense of pride and satisfaction looking on as Charmonique enjoyed her graduation ball at Knutsford Court Hotel in St Andrew.

“Coming out of that we realised that there are students who want to go to prom, but can’t afford it. So we said, let’s come up with something to help them,” Chin explained.

“We reached out to corporate women and men, as well as stores via e-mail, telling them what we wanted to do and asking them to contribute, and the response has been phenomenal,” Chin said. “Some people have just walked into the Observer lobby with outfits and left them for us. Others have had the items delivered.”

A number of the individuals who have contributed dresses said they learnt of the initiative on social media.

Some of the schools, Chin said, have already been contacted and have been responding favourably.

“We’re going to be setting up a fantastic walk-in closet on June 8 at Terra Nova Hotel, then we’re going to have the students — 150 girls and 30 boys — come in over a five-hour period to select their outfits, fit them, select their shoes, clutch purses, and accessories,” she explained.

In addition, the female students will be given amenity kits with make-up.

“We have well over 120 dresses already,” Chin said. “However, we still need some male items, especially dark suits. So, we are appealing to men who can, to make a contribution.”

The deadline for contributions is this weekend.

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