Students get financial lifeline with SOS scholarships
Karena Gayle characterises herself as a powerhouse after overcoming her social anxieties to devote time to volunteerism while also juggling other responsibilities.
Gayle, who will be studying computer science at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, in the coming academic year, was one of 10 scholarship awardees of the Summer of Service (SOS) programme, which is facilitated by Governor General Sir Patrick Allen’s I Believe Initiative.
The 2023 awards were presented during a ceremony at King’s House on Thursday.
Since its 2013 inception, the programme has given more than $70 million towards full or partial scholarships, book grants and other financial assistance with at least 148 student beneficiaries.
Gayle, who is the 2023 Miss St James Festival Queen, told The Gleaner that she almost missed the opportunity to be part of the programme as the timeline to complete the mandated 96 hours of voluntary work had clashed with her training sessions for the Festival Queen contest.
“So, between July 20 and August 2, I was in Kingston, and I got the letter that I should start my project on July 17 or 18. So, I realised that I couldn’t do it, or I thought I couldn’t do it,” she said.
With an unrelenting spirit, Gayle found a way to not only meet the deadline, but also exceed the required number of hours, putting in 110 hours of service instead.
Gayle tutors youngsters in mathematics, English language and the sciences as these are the subject areas she believes many students struggle with.
The 18-year-old initially felt disheartened after realising that her school – Mount Alvernia High – already had mandatory summer school sessions, which resulted in many of the students she had already been tutoring while in sixth form no longer believed they also needed her tutoring sessions.
But Gayle pressed on and not only found a way to get students from Mount Alvernia interested, but also some from Montego Bay High, where she had been a student up to grade 11.
As she desperately needed the scholarship to continue her studies, Gayle said that she devoted as much of her time as possible, even on weekends, to meet the criteria for the award.
“I think that this has definitely built me ... . This has definitely tested my limit with the exhaustion, ... but I had to do it and it just showed me that whatever I put my mind to, as cliché as it may sound, I can achieve. Truly, it has really opened my eyes ... and I’ve been ‘powerhousing’ since,” she said beaming with pride.
Her dad, Welleslay Gayle, said that as a father of three girls – Gayle being the eldest – and being in the transitional stage from corporate to entrepreneurship, he was strapped for cash.
But he was delighted by his daughter’s success in receiving the scholarship, noting that it would at least get her through the door of opportunity.
“University is very expensive and so it’s an honour and privilege that [companies and other organisations] can come on board to help ... because she has been an outstanding individual [and] has been breaking ceilings from she was a baby,” he said.
The SOS scholarship programme was established to promote volunteerism among young people while supporting their education. It aims to help them develop practical knowledge, while showing compassion and building awareness of their civic duty. It also facilitates mentorship between students and their supervisors as they gain hands-on experience and networking opportunities to become socially conscious leaders.
In his address at Thursday’s event, Sir Patrick said that after looking at the work of the youth throughout the years of the programme, which initially started with nine students, he was “deeply convinced” that Jamaica’s future is a promising one.
“In these trying times, it is quite important ... to provide meaningful opportunities for our young people to pursue education and promising career paths,” he said, noting his full commitment to offer ongoing support.
Karyl Thorpe, another recipient, who will be studying international relations at The UWI, Mona, told The Gleaner that she initially thought it to be impossible to achieve the mandated 96 hours in an approximate four-week period. She took the opportunity to diversify and engaged in four voluntary projects, which included teaching students at summer school, working with youngsters at a Vacation Bible School at her church, and working with Love 101 FM on its I Love Summer tour.
“It was honestly a lot of work, but I’m honestly super proud of myself for doing it and I couldn’t have done it of course without the Father (God),” said the 19-year-old St Andrew High School for Girls alumna.
Her mother, Claudette Lalor-Thorpe, explained that with her husband being ill, the family has been facing some financial challenges, so the scholarship award brought some relief.
“I know in all of this, it is just God’s work because before she got the call – it was a Tuesday – and I said to her, ‘Y’know, I’m going to get the loan’, and she said to me, ‘Don’t worry, I think it’ll work itself out’, and then by the Friday, I was on the road and she called to say, ‘Mom, I got it’,” said the proud mother.
She explained that her daughter, who is the younger of two girls, is a high achiever, who is very involved and has been a part of the US Embassy’s Youth Ambassadors Programme, a part of Jamaica Youth Parliament, and a member of the Jamaica Youth Council.