GEORGES PLAIN, Westmoreland — Teenage pregnancy, coupled with sickle cell anaemia forced then 17-year-old Iesha Fullwood to shelve her dream of becoming a commissary chef.
She dropped out of high school to take care of her health and her child, but she always hoped she would one day find her way into the culinary field. She saw HEART/ NSTA Trust as her best bet to make her dream a reality.
So when the Westmoreland Youth Innovation Centre (WYIC) partnered with HEART’s parish office and the education ministry to host a career booster and job fair in late August, she was there.
“I have always wanted to go back to HEART to be a commissary chef or pastry chef,” a determined Fullwood told the Jamaica Observer from the event held in Georges Plain, Westmoreland.
As a commissary chef she would be tasked with assisting senior chefs with food preparation and organisation.
“The sickle cell made me stop attending Petersfield [High School],” she said, her voice tinged with regret.
She said she heard about the job fair via a WhatsApp group message and joined after leaving work. The event, dubbed “Inspire Him Inspire Her”, sought to attract under-served, under-skilled, unemployed and at-risk youth from the communities of Georges Plain, Frome and Three Miles River. Those who attended benefited from career guidance, help with crafting a winning resume, a chance to print and photocopy whatever documents needed for a job hunt, as well as the very thing Fullwood was looking for — on-the-spot registration for various HEART/ NSTA Trust programmes.
Like her, Dashenelle Whorms, who is from a neighbouring community, also had her sights set on enrolling in a cooking/baking programme at HEART. She filled out an application during the job fair, which was staged at a well-known gas station. She said the tips provided during the event gave her a clearer understanding of how to present herself when applying for jobs.
“Engaging the youth in Georges Plain was enlightening as they were able to tell us what their real needs are. We have committed to going back to address some of those needs as best as we possibly can with the assistance of our partners,” promised senior youth empowerment officer for Region 4, Rhonda Walker-Walters.
She said youth innovation centres (YICs) across St James, Westmoreland and Hanover are working to connect with youngsters who are unaware and or unable to visit their permanent locations.
According to youth empowerment officer for Westmorland Donmarie Latouche, youngsters living in volatile areas are high on the list of those that mobile YICs are trying to reach. She stressed, however, that youngsters may reach out to any of the 14 youth empowerment offices across the island. Before the Westmoreland event, they did a community walk-through with the Jamaica Constabulary Force to encourage, mobilise and engage unattached youth. She said many requested a community training centre, saying they need a positive space where they can showcase their skills and talents.
Her colleague, Jerome Malcolm, said the WYIC is always looking for opportunities to empower, educate and provide jobs for the country’s youth.
“For some of them they are not able to read, are school dropouts and you name it. For some of them they do not have any form of qualification, therefore our role is to assess where those are,” he explained.
Those who need help boosting their literacy skills are steered towards the Jamaica Foundation for Lifelong Learning, while those who need certification get help through HEART.
During the Westmoreland event, volunteers also included youngsters who offered their time and expertise to help their peers.
Aneika Wilson, Vashawn Berry and Kurt Bradley could be seen guiding the youth and giving them career advice.
Nichole Morgan, from HEART, described the feedback from youngsters as “awesome”, and said many of them signed up for programmes.
Throughout the day, the health ministry also manned a free mobile HIV testing booth for those who wanted to know their status.