Mabel Wood reaching out to inner-city children with vigour

Everyday Heroes

BY JEDIAEL CARTER
Staff reporter
carterj@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, October 22, 2017

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In a world of despair, Mabel Wood believes that her role is to deliver hope to children within inner-city communities.

And that she did.

The businesswoman-turned-philanthropist started by visiting and caring for vulnerable children in State homes with her friend over a decade ago.

“I saw children who were really neglected and were abandoned, though they had great potential; they were bright children, pretty children but, you know, a parent died or was incarcerated and they were left on the street,” she stated.

“So we would help them with their homework, read Bible stories to them and make sure that they felt as if they had mothers,” she continued.

Two years in, there was a need to expand her ministry and, encouraged by many, Wood turned her calling to help children into something great.

She gathered like-minded individuals, established meaningful relationships, and received permission to offer her care to vulnerable students at Seaward Primary and Junior High School in Kingston — a school relatively close to her business on Washington Boulevard.

A mere calling became the Love and Hope Ministries (LAHM), which has assisted children for 14 years.

Shepherded by Wood and a 13-member board, LAHM (pronounced lamb) assists over 120 students in six primary schools in Kingston, St Andrew and St Catherine.

In addition to her first school, the ministry reaches children at St John's and Homestead primary in St Catherine; Seaward Primary, Mountain View Primary, New Day Primary, and Shortwood Practising Primary and Junior High School in Kingston.

Through the permission of the school principals, and with the assistance of the guidance counsellors who select the most vulnerable students, the ministry acts as “godly mothers” for the students.

“We motivate them, we mentor them, because these children are chosen by the guidance counsellors because of their need,” Wood explained. “They were in dire need — some parents died of AIDS and when one parent died of AIDS, another parent is dying of the disease; some parents are just unemployed; some never wanted the child in the first place, so they abandoned them, and so these children would be left to the mercy of the society.”

It's main focus is to help students who under normal circumstances, would be prevented from attending school regularly for various reasons — to attend and succeed.

“We take them up to GSAT (Grade Six Achievement Test). So we make sure they are in school every day, they pass the GSAT; we make sure they are mentored and motivated to pass the GSAT, and we think that once they reach high school there is no turning back,” Wood said, noting that LAHM assist students as early as age six.

Approximately 25 children per school, selected by the guidance counsellors will receive lunch for up to three days a week, books and stationery supplies, shoes and clothes to attend church.

“So every month we get into the school and every month we hand a cheque to the principal for the lunches. Wood said. “They put them into a room and we mentor them...and talk to them about not allowing anything like poverty or any unforeseen circumstances to keep them down — the sky is the limit and they can reach it.”

Additionally, the ministry provides care packages with basic food supplies — rice, mackerel, beans, peas, among others — for the children to take to home to their parents.

She said LAHM also assists in miscellaneous needs such as optical and physical care.

But to Wood, the ministry is more than just filling their needs and showing love.

“We want them ultimately to see Christ as the centre of their lives. We want them to know that if it wasn't for God we wouldn't be there, and so there is a hope beyond inner city, there is a hope beyond holding the gun, there is a hope beyond early pregnancy, there's a hope beyond holding up and taking away. There is hope!” she noted, explaining the reason for the ministry's name.

The pride she feels when she hears of the children's successes cannot go unnoticed. In fact, as she told the Jamaica Observer of the success stories, she beamed from ear to ear, eyes tightly clenched from the rise in her cheeks.

“We see great results, we see children who are in university now, children who are working now, and some of them are really doing well,” a delighted Wood stated.

“I remember one year we got a child who went to St John's Primary and she [later] got nine subjects in CSEC (Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate), so her name was in The Gleaner and I walked around with her picture. I was so proud of her because, you know, her dad had died and I just saw her at the mercy of the community [at the time],” she continued.

“Now she is a beautiful girl. I saw her recently at a play and she was with her boyfriend and she introduced him to me and she looked so pretty,” Wood added with a broad grin.

Funded partially by Wood, the ministry also receives donations from other members and two international chapters in New York and Florida.

They also host a banquet annually as its major fund-raiser at the Jamaica Pegasus, slated for December 9 this year.

Having interacted with the students and learnt of their unconventional customs, Wood hopes to have a book published by the end of the year that she hopes will aid in resocialising children.

“I remember going to a school — and this rubbed me the wrong way — and I was talking to them and I said, 'you know, Love and Hope children are different children, we are special, we don't have sex because sex is for adults', and the guidance counsellor said I should spend some more time on that'. And I thought, what is she saying? These are seven- and eight-year-olds, and she said that's what they are doing and they don't know it's wrong,” she recounted.

“They do not know it is wrong to have sex, they do not know it is wrong to use curse words, they do not know it is wrong to not say thank you,” she said.

Her hope is that the ministry will expand to operate a home to provide a home for orphans and unhappy children.

“I would like LAHM to have an orphanage with caring Christian mothers who can nurture them the right way, because we see children who are living with a grandmother who cannot work and they are left to the mercy of the society,” she said.

She also has dreams that the ministry will one day have the capacity to “see children through high school and beyond”.

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