17-year-old Clarendon teen happy to give back

SHE is studying to be a business lawyer but 17-year-old Ashanti James is also a philanthropist in the making, confident that working behind the scenes with her father on the James and Friends Education Programme (JFEP) will prepare her to take over the reins one day.

The Clarendon-based charity was conceptualised 17 years ago when a larger-than-expected-crowd showed up for her first birthday party.

“In the middle of hosting my party, my dad realised that a lot more persons than he had invited came and so he had to make preparations to accommodate them. It was from there that he realised many persons in the community needed help with basic things like food, and so he decided to launch the programme,” the fifth-form business major at Glenmuir High School explained.

Her father’s passion for helping others has inspired her to do the same, she added. Over the years, she said, she has watched him help hundreds of people overcome numerous challenges and — through sponsorships — has provided students with access to millions of dollars in this regard.

“It’s obvious that my father loves to give back, and my mother does it, too. I realise that it’s the same thing with me. I grew up seeing him do it and then I got attached to it and so I decided that I wanted to be a part of it. At some point in time he will get old and unable to carry out the work, so I want to ensure I will be able to take on the mantle in the future,” James told the Jamaica Observer.

She acknowledged that managing the foundation is not an easy task as it requires a lot of coordination between sponsors and those in need, but said she still manages to help her father because she understands what it means to help the less fortunate. “I am touched, especially by the stories of the youth. Adults are, in most cases…able to take care of themselves but the children have to depend on somebody to look after them, and that is the main purpose of this programme. I am therefore making sure that when [my father] is no longer able to manage the programme and it’s time to pass on the baton, I am ready to take over and help as [many youngsters] as I can. So for now I am learning the rudiments of the foundation and following in his footsteps.”

Working during a pandemic has made it even more challenging for the father-daughter duo to reach out to those in need and those who are able to help, but James said she has learned a lot from being on the road with her dad over the past year. “I realise my father knows his communities and knows who gets what and how to go about getting sponsorship and managing the distribution process. He is always kept busy by the programme and so I make sure I help him with the paperwork because his dream is to see that his daughter takes over the programme when the time comes,” she explained.

The teenager is encouraging those who are in a position to help others to do so. “Think of others; imagine if you didn’t have the basic things in life. I witnessed my daddy buy meals at Burger King for persons who had never had fast food in their entire life. That is a regular thing for me [but when I saw] the look on their faces when they got the food and [saw] how they felt I just thought, ‘Wow! What if I didn’t have someone to provide for me?’ The joy on their faces alone warmed my heart. This programme has taught me to always be humble because a lot of persons are less fortunate,” she shared.

“I always say the person who doesn’t have anything now has the potential to make it in life. So never judge a child, because his story will become his glory,” said James.

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