Local Freemasons help to keep Boys’ Town afloat

THINGS have not been as great lately for Boys’ Town, situated in the inner-city Trench Town community of south St Andrew.

A bronze statue of well-known cricketer O’Neil Gordon “Collie” Smith, which was unveiled during an official ceremony at on Wednesday, March 21, stands out like a jewel against a backdrop of ruined buildings, broken homes and lost dreams.

The statue, commissioned by the Boys’ Town community and financed by the Government’s (Culture, Health, Arts, Sports and Education) CHASE Fund at a cost of $8.1 million, shows Smith — who was on his way to becoming one of the region’s cricket greats when he died at age 26 in a car accident in England in 1959 — in a classic, onside stroke playing pose. It was sculpted by the renown Jamaican artist, Kay Sullivan.

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It might not be enough to remove the gloom which has descended on the inner-city community like a cloud of despair, with the recent relegation of its Premier League football club from the major Jamaican football league after decades of being ranked among the country’s best football outfits.

But the good thing is that, Boys’ Town continues to limp along despite the setbacks, and remains one of the most remarkable models of how social intervention into poverty-stricken communities can continue to attract financial and voluntary support from a wide cross section of Government and private institutions, including the Lodge St John No 623 (Scottish Constitution), a Freemason organisation which has been engaged with the Boys’ Town project for the past seven years.

The relations started at the request of a past master of the Lodge, Gladstone Robinson (now deceased), a well-known cricketer and footballer who played for Boys’ Town and was a protégé of Father Hugh Sherlock, the founder of Boys’ Town.

Regarded as an “authoritative and elegant” opening batsman, Robinson joined Boys’ Town after St Jago High School and became a teammate of Collie Smith.

He urged the fraternal institution to virtually “adopt” Boys’ Town, creating a close relationship between the two that has continued even after his death.

In addition to the annual treat, which last took place on Monday, March 26 at Boys’ Town, the school has been a regular recipient of support from the Lodge, including a monthly stipend to assist with its breakfast feeding programmes.

This year’s Easter treat saw the lodge donating assorted school supplies, utensils, and bathroom supplies to the school, as well as providing bun and cheese, patties, and refreshment for students. There was also a dramatic presentation and reading to the children.

Radcliff Knibbs, the current master of Lodge St John No 623, commenting on his lodge’s outreach programme, sees it as evidence of the philanthropy which is a very important pillar of its work and worth.

He noted that Lodge St John, which was established in 1878 as a fraternity organisation, is guided by the tenets of “Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth”. It currently meets at 11-15 McGregor Square, Beechwood Avenue, Kingston 5.

“We believe it is important to continue reaching out and offering our support, wherever it is possible to make a difference,” Knibbs commented.

He added that the Boy’s Town’s Easter Treat has furthered the outreach practices of other lodges, as well.

“Boys’ Town held a special place in Brother Gladstone Robinson’s heart, and so we honour his memory and celebrate his legacy by continuing this annual tradition,” he added.

Head of the Boys’ Town’ Infant Department, Diana Black, said that the school is very grateful for all the help it has been receiving from Lodge St John over the years.

“In addition to the Easter treat, which since its start in 2011 has become a highly anticipated event, they have graciously supported our feeding programmes and provided uniforms and school supplies for students.

This year we once again welcome their support and we look forward to their continued involvement in Boys’ Town,” she stated.

The Lodge St John outreach programme also provides a monthly stipend for the North Street Primary School’s breakfast feeding programme, as well as a scholarship programme for male students attending the University of Technology.

Originating as a project to teach skills to young males in the prison system in 1940, Boys’ Town was founded by the late Methodist pastor Hugh Sherlock, who also co-authored the Jamaica National Anthem.

Under Father Sherlock, as he was best known, Boys’ Town originated as the Kingston Boys’ Club in Jones Town, which included an all-age school accommodating some 200 boys, with assistance from the Young Men’s Christian Association.

The project now has an infant and primary school as well, and after-school activities, vocational training, sports, scholarship support, community outreach and cultural activities. However, it is best known for its great cricket and football teams, as well as its cultural activities, over the years.

The school and staff are funded by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information. It still partners with a number of stakeholders such as churches, service groups and educational institutions, including the HEART Trust/NTA. However, its main support has been through voluntarism from persons who have benefited or have been associated with the institution over the years.

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