Antoya Cassells uses JPS’ ‘give-back’ grant to fund alma mater upgrade Loop Jamaica

The content originally appeared on: Jamaica News Loop News

Winston Jones High School past student Antoya Cassells wanted to give back to her alma mater.

She saw a window of opportunity when the JPS Foundation issued a call for Labour Day project proposals.

For the 27-year-old who graduated from the Pratville, Manchester-located secondary institution in 2014, the humanistic principle of ‘paying it forward’ held great meaning.

‘This was an incredibly important thing for me as the school played a pivotal role in shaping who I am today. Winston Jones High was the foundation on which I built the love I have for volunteerism. By submitting the project proposal, I wanted to ensure that future generations of students have access to even better opportunities and resources than I had,’ explained Cassells, who sent her proposal just moments before the April 18 deadline, with assistance from the school’s mathematics and physical education teacher Roxanne Hibbert-Watson.

The submission for Winston Jones was one of over 70 proposals received by the JPS Foundation for a JM$500k Labour Day project that was to be awarded by public vote.

This list was then shortlisted to 12 for the public vote.

Winston Jones High School alum Antoya Cassells, who also serves as I Bloom project manager and sponsorship director, submitted the winning proposal for the Labour Day project sponsored by the JPS Foundation. (Photos: Contributed)

Head of the Foundation Sophia Lewis recalled the razor-thin margin in deciding the winner, in a race ultimately led by the Manchester school and the island’s leading psychiatric hospital.

‘It was a neck-and-neck between Winston Jones and Bellevue Hospital. At one point there was minimal difference. Then one was 200 points over, then the other went way up. Winston Jones really galvanised their supporters. They rallied their community and past students quite well. Based on the comments online, we saw that it was about the community effort for them, and they ended up winning the public vote.’

There were three categories for Labour Day projects: public vote, an internal team member selection, and one for the Power Up Energy Club, the Foundation lead explained.

Fast forward to the appointed time, the Thursday Lewis applied.

Lewis, joined by scores of JPS Volunteers On Location To Serve (VOLTS) team members from the energy company’s corporate head office and Mandeville customer service office, journeyed to the hill-top Winston Jones school to work on the public vote-winning project.

With Sherwin Williams providing paint, and tens of rollers and paintbrushes in tow, the JPS family was tasked with refreshing the defaced walls of the high school’s stairwell and the upstairs and downstairs corridors with much needed coats.

Lewis was more than satisfied with the day’s turnout which comprised her JPS colleagues, residents from the high school’s neighbouring community and volunteers from Cassell’s non-profit organisation I Bloom, at which she serves as its project manager and sponsorship director.

‘Community development is one of our pillars at the JPS Foundation and [these] projects fit squarely into that. At JPS, we want to serve our customers. This is our way of giving back to them to ensure that they feel our support. Our team members were only too willing to come out on this holiday to lend their support,’ Lewis noted, in-between her diligent brushstrokes.

An elated Dr Marie Wilson-McLaughlin, the school’s principal, had much to celebrate.

‘I am definitely grateful at how the initiative came about with Ms Cassells and our teacher here Mrs Hibbert Thomas, which resulted in the composition of the proposal that met the standards of the JPS Foundation.’

School lead for the past eight years, Wilson-McLaughlin who previously served as vice-principal and taught Caribbean History and Social Studies remarked ‘education in Jamaica today relies heavily on stakeholder partnership. To do the repainting would have required a significant budget.’

‘There is never enough to do all that needs to be done in our institution to ensure there is adequate school improvement to meet the needs of our students, so securing this partnership with the JPS Foundation is significant in helping us target our areas of focus,’ added the principal of the technical and vocational school with an enrolment of 528 students.

Meanwhile for Cassells, a graduate of the Ebony HEART Academy with a diploma in agro-processing and a former Clarendon Farm Queen, upon seeing the Winston Jones rehabilitation work take effect, said: ‘it’s humbling to know that I was able to do this on behalf of the school.’

In addition to the Manchester’s school beautification, the JPS Foundation executed three other Labour Day projects.

The special needs school Naz Children Centre in Montego Bay was selected by a JPS staff member for a beautification exercise while the JPS Power Up Energy Club’s York Castle High was shortlisted for a makeover to their prayer garden which saw benches being rehabilitated and trees both planted and cut down.

A rehabilitation exercise at the Pye River Cemetery – a partnership between JPS’ Bogue Power Plant and the St James municipality – capped the list.