Lighting the flame of hope
Lynne Mitchell Foundation Scholarship helping J’can youth achieve educational goals
Labelled a “slow learner”, 19-year-old Asher Smith’s educational journey was such a tremendous struggle he could easily have given up.
Meanwhile, 21-year-old Dominic Coburn was forced to ration food, and often went without breakfast.
These two young Jamaicans now have a new lease on life.
Smith is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in computing at The University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech), and Coburn is set to graduate with a degree in electrical power engineering from The University of the West Indies, Mona (UWI).
Smith, Coburn, and 23-year-old Ashanique Russell were celebrated at the annual Lynne Mitchell Scholarship Foundation’s Night in Monte Carlo gala in Miami, Florida, two weeks ago.
Mitchell’s legacy continues to shine through her daughter, attorney-at-law Marlene Gordon and husband Charles, who have donated nearly US$100,000 (J$15.8 million) this year towards educating Jamaicans locally and internationally.
“The day I found out about the foundation was the day my life changed,” Smith, who said he experienced difficulties learning in the early stages of development, told a packed room of donors and well-wishers in downtown Miami.
“Growing up, some labelled me as a slow learner. However, as I progressed to primary school, my learning abilities improved and this was reflected in my grades,” said the Cornwall College graduate as he shared the limelight with his peers.
Despite his parents’ unwavering support, Smith said the expenses associated with tertiary education loomed as a daunting hurdle.
“This educational opportunity (scholarship) has opened doors that were once seemingly out of reach, allowing me to chase my aspirations of becoming a software developer,” he said, describing his journey as “a success story” because the foundation has ignited a sense of purpose and determination within him.
Coburn admitted that for years, he lived in fear of failure – “failure at life, school, not making my parents and those around me proud”.
ROUGH FIVE YEARS
He revealed that for the first two years of high school, he was fortunate to have his boarding fees paid. However, the following five years were rough, even with supportive parents.
“I spent the latter years of high school life with my grandmother, living in an unfinished house with no tiles, no running water and [no] electricity. We had a barrel that rainwater would drain into and that is what I used to bathe with in the mornings,” he shared.
Coburn often went to school without breakfast, saying, “I would think of the ration of groceries in the house and how to make it last. I sometimes did not eat lunch some days to save money for the next day.”
He held the audience’s attention when he said that at age 16, when he was supposed to be worrying about typical teenage concerns, he was preoccupied with meeting his basic needs.
As a final-year student at The UWI, he says he still often eats once per day, limiting his spending on groceries. But one thing is for sure: Coburn will graduate with a degree in electrical power engineering with the help from the scholarship programme.
As Coburn spoke of the transformation in his life, Russell, who was the first recipient of the Lynne Mitchell Foundation Scholarship 11 years ago, reminisced on where she started.
Living in a single-parent household, Russell said she watched her mom receive her minimum wage pay and struggle to make ends meet. It was the financial support from the foundation that sparked her flame of hope.
She first received the scholarship at age 10 during primary school and received help throughout high school and university.
The Northern Caribbean University (NCU) honours graduate is currently doing an internship as a front desk agent at the Hilton Hotel in St Louis, Missouri, in the United States.
She said the Lynne Mitchell Scholarship Foundation gave her hope that children with similar financial insecurities would not be trapped in poverty.
Marlene Gordon, who founded the initiative, was overjoyed by the support in the ballroom, noting that it was an evening of audacious joy.
She has expanded the scholarship, which started in St Elizabeth, to students across Jamaica.
“We did this because we knew that there are many incredibly smart and high-achieving students who need someone to come and lift them up and give them the opportunity to live up to their full potential,” she told the gathering.
In fact, this year, Gordon and her team have awarded 10 scholarships to Jamaican students pursuing degrees in forensics psychology, law, cinematography, chemical engineering, veterinary science, aeronautical engineering, computer science, and economics, at UTech, The UWI, and NCU in Jamaica as well as the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Canada.
She told The Gleaner that applications for the May 2024 scholarships are now available and can be found at https://lynnemitchellfoundation.awardspring.com/
Applicants stand the chance of being sponsored to the tune of up to US$5,000 per annum.