Note: The following story appears in the winter issue of Hindsight alumni magazine. For more information about the Hinds Alumni Association, see the website. To apply for a Hinds Community College Foundation scholarship, go to the Admissions tab on college web site at www.hindscc.edu or click here.
RAYMOND – What began as a random tagalong trip with friends to the island nation of Jamaica has turned into a calling for Kathy Farris, of Raymond.
“It affected me in such a way that I knew I wanted to do something else with my life like that,” Farris said. “I had never done volunteer work before.”
Since 2012, Farris, a technical assistant at the McLendon Library at Hinds Community College’s Raymond Campus, has volunteered at least a few weeks a year with children and educators in Jamaica to make lives better in every way possible – whether that’s team-teaching computer skills or helping get eyeglasses and shoes to those most in need.
She’s done so as part of Great Shape! Inc., an Oregon-based nonprofit founded after Hurricane Gilbert ravaged the island nation in 1988. An effort then to rebuild schools and roads there evolved into an ongoing mission to help students get everything they need to thrive in school. In the past decade, it’s grown to establish computer labs to aid education, sponsor the purchase of mandatory uniforms for Jamaican children and provided expertise in dental and eye care for schoolchildren. The organization says only 43 percent of Jamaica’s population of 2.8 million has ever seen or been treated for eye health issues, while the literacy rate in rural parts of the island is just 40 percent.
Farris has done a majority of her work while staying in hotels owned by Sandals Resorts, which sponsors reading efforts in the country’s schools.
“Just being in the schools with the children is amazing, because they’re such loving children and you get so much more out the project by being there,” she said. “One little 12-year-old girl came in who had no idea her eyesight was bad, and they fitted her with glasses. She cried, her mom cried. It was a touching story. It makes me tear up because I’m so vested there. There’s just so much we take for granted in the U.S.”
Her friends and co-workers have pitched in either supplies or their own elbow grease to Farris’ volunteer work.
“To say the least, it was the most humbling experience that I have had in my life,” said Leigh Mann, a friend of Farris’ whose curiosity turned to action for the past few trips. “I had run by to see her, and she pulled out her tablet to show me the videos and all the stories. I asked question after question, then just decided it was time for me to make a difference and be part of this journey.”
For Melanie John, among Farris’ five fellow technical assistants in the library, it was a chance to contribute to children who need the essentials for school. That list includes children’s books, backpacks and school supplies such as pencils, paper, notebooks, pencil sharpeners, glue sticks, stickers and markers.
“I thought it was such a wonderful way to give back to those who were lacking educational needs and also teaching resources for the teachers,” John said.
Farris credits her experience in the DECA program as a Hinds student, in the retail management area, for shaping her development later on helping people in the library and in her mission work. The organization recognizes student achievement in various fields of business administration, finance, marketing and hospitality.
“We placed nationally when I was coming to school here,” she said. “Nowadays, I enjoy helping students in the library and like seeing that light bulb come on when studying. It’s made me want to do more in the volunteering area.”