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Vincy group makes difference in students’ lives

The Internet-based group, VincyCares, says, despite its embryonic stage, it is making a tremendous difference in the lives of students at home.

The three-year-old group’s Washington, D.C.-based president, Kenley “Shortmus” John, told a recent anniversary dinner and gala award ceremony, at the Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center in Brooklyn, that, as a direct result of the public’s “continued commitment” and participation of the sister group, VincyCares SVG (St. Vincent and the Grenadines), over the last year, it has been able to complete its initial goal.

“This being to deliver much-needed schools supplies to every primary school in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” said John, who, along with Dahlia-Ann Howard-Lewis are co-founders of the group.

Howard-Lewis, who travelled from St. Vincent and the Grenadines to New York for the honor ceremony, said VincyCares has “accomplished much” in its short existence, “despite the many challenges.”

She disclosed that the group this year met the “landmark goal” of distributing school supplies to all 53 primary schools throughout the multi-island state.

“I cannot say enough how fulfilling a task this is for our dedicated volunteer team and for everyone involved,” Howard-Lewis said.

“We continue to feed on the energy of the children, teachers and families, who benefit from this gesture,” she added.

“We now look forward to streamlining this venture to more adequately meet the needs of our nation’s children.”

At the beginning of the academic year, Howard-Lewis said VincyCares awarded five new scholarships: four to students entering secondary school for the first time and one to a second-year student.

Victoria Sutherland, the young lady who VincyCares said “inspired the formation of the group” and after whom the scholarship fund is named, is currently attending the Sandy Bay Secondary School on the north eastern coast of mainland St. Vincent.

John said the six students have been awarded full, five-year scholarships to the tune of US$2,500 each.

He singled out Mrs. Christlyn Matthews-Child, Mr. and Mrs. Preston Johnson, and Mrs. Sara Toyloy for assisting the group in providing scholarships for the students.

At the awards ceremony, Anita Botti, a former Peace Corps volunteer at the Mental Hospital in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and current chief-of-staff for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Office for Global Women’s Issues, presented a US$2,500 check to VincyCares for an additional scholarship.

Howard-Lewis said a recent visit to the schools, as well as conversations with the students and parents, revealed that the students are “performing well.”

“We are proud of our students, and continue to encourage them to strive for excellence,” Howard-Lewis said.

“I take this opportunity once again to thank you all for supporting VincyCares and believing in our passion,” she added. “We could not have accomplished so much without you.”

John said VincyCares’ goal is to “provide an avenue whereby all children will be able to attend school on a level playing field, especially when it comes to the tools that they need to be successful.

He said the group was formed after a “chance encounter” between Howard-Lewis and Victoria Sutherland, then 11 years old, from the rural village of Sandy Bay, who was selling sorrel in Kingstown, the Vincentian capital, early one Friday morning.

“The encounter had a profound impact on a lot of individuals, evidenced by discussions that took place on Facebook, resulting in the formation of VincyCares,” he said.

Howard-Lewis said she was dropping her daughter, Brittney, off to school, when she saw Sutherland walking along Back Street, Kingstown, about 7:00 a.m., with a tray on her head.

“Something about her caught my attention, and I stopped and asked her where she was from,” she said.

“When Victoria told me she was from Sandy Bay, I was really sad, because I realized that she must have left home before 5:00 a.m. in order to be in Kingstown at that time,” she added.

“Further, I asked why she was not in school, and she said she lived with her grandmother and had to sell to help out,” Howard-Lewis continued.

“All my emotions kicked in, and I told her to get into the car, and I will help her sell the sorrel. I bought some. I stopped at a Restaurant ‘Willies’ and asked Michele Huggins Williams to buy, which she did. Then, I met my brother, and he bought the remainder,” she said.

Howard-Lewis said she got a contact number from Sutherland, and dropped her at the bus stop.

“I believe that God orchestrated my meeting Victoria. I say this because I have seen children selling on the street on many occasions, during the times when they ought to be in school,” she said. “But, somehow, this was different.

“I remember feeling so emotional all that day, tearing up every time I thought of her. That Sunday, my family and I went to Sandy Bay to meet her family. After that I kept in touch with them, helping out as much as I can. She has since spent a weekend with me,” Howard-Lewis added.

“The day I met Victoria, I posted a short note about the experience on my Facebook status. Many people were touched, generating lots of comments on the post. This led to Kenley ‘Shortmus’ John asking for feedback on how the Facebook community can help the children of St. Vincent [and the Grenadines]. The overwhelming response gave birth to VincyCares,” she continued.

If you would like to make a contribution to the Victoria Sutherland Scholarship Fund, you can contact VincyCares at vincycares@gmail.com.

Updated 10:17 pm, December 20, 2012: Photo by Nelson A. King
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