Marian House ‘family’ helps young men shape their future
By Shereen Ali Sunday, August 18 2013
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From left, Shaka Joseph, Kareem Dingchong and Dave Matthew, residents of Marian House, take some time out yesterday to have their photo taken before h...
The boys at Marian House have a great deal to be proud of. This year, seven students studied hard for their CXC and CAPE exams, and all of them succeeded in passing subjects, including one young man who did well, passing eight CAPE subjects, including Chemistry, Biology and Physics, and another who secured fair to good grades in six CAPE subjects, including Accounting, Economics and Management of Business.
Of the four students who studied for CAPE exams, all did reasonably well, gaining from two to eight passes in various subjects, some with Grades 1 and 2. Three other students studied subjects at CXC level, gaining from two to five passes. This year, some of the successful CAPE students have applied for entry to UWI programmes of study.
More than the academic success of individual students, however, the real story, according to Marian House managers, is the cooperation, help and discipline shown among the boys towards each other. They have helped each other in study sessions throughout the past year and have encouraged each other to work hard to improve. Some of the boys would have never contemplated studying even a single CXC subject when they first arrived, because they had other urgent issues to deal with; some, for instance, had missed a lot of basic schooling before coming to Marian House and did not feel ready to resume studies. Over their time at the residential centre, however, these boys have benefitted from available help at Marian House, and have learned the value of co-operation, self-discipline and working towards goals in order to create better options.
Marian House, run by the Living Water Catholic community, provides a refuge for boys in need, aged 15 to 18 (and sometimes, up to 21). Operating since December 1987 as initially a drop-in centre for temporary relief for boys under stress (whether through abandonment, family problems, abuse, or other issues), Project Leader Sharon Francis notes that since the early 2000s, Marian House has evolved a live-in programme as a pro-active move to help boys who are at the age to leave orphanages to better transition into independent living.
Sharon Francis is responsible for the centre’s staff recruitment and training, and managing intervention programmes to help the teenage boys. In an interview with Sunday Newsday, she said, “When I began in 2005, the young men came to us for several reasons. Some came off the streets, some were abused, abandoned, or suffered from different social ills. They would come in to get something to eat, have a bath, and stay for a short while...But as the years went by, there was a change in intake. Many young men leaving institutions (like orphanages) had challenges reintegrating with their family of origin, or just managing on their own, finding a place to live ... so we started to go out to the homes, and when the time came for boys’ termination from orphanages, we would offer them help; they could now get an automatic transition into Marian House.”
“We are a second-chance family and a learning environment. We try to provide a family, live-in environment. When they come into the programme, we tell them they have a second chance at learning, as well as emotional, psychological and spiritual development,” explained Francis.
Marian House can help up to 37 boys at any time. Actual numbers fluctuate as the House is not an institution mandated by law to keep anyone against their will. It is a volunteer programme. Individual youths decide how long they stay.
“It’s not just about housing, food and clothing. We believe in giving individual help, working holistically to address individual needs. We want sustainable change. It’s about developing the whole person,” emphasised Francis.
This year so far, Marian House has helped between nine and 15 boys at different times. All are in full-time programmes. Some have been there less than a year; others have lived there for eight years. Marian House helps each youth develop an “Individual Development Plan” (IDP). This includes education, and can include counselling, medical help, and other assistance as needed.
Francis specially mentions scholarships donated by the Elders’ Classes, which has considerably helped boys receive an education. St Joseph’s College in St Joseph has also been extremely helpful. With the help of GATE funding, three youths may be progressing to a tertiary education this year. Funding still needs to be found for their books and living expenses.
There are several pressing needs at the home. One is for more mentors and volunteers. Although the boys attend different secondary schools during the day, they participate in after-school study and homework sessions daily from 4 to 7 pm. Teachers and other volunteers are always welcomed. “We need Maths and Spanish teachers,” said Peter Joseph, the Development Coordinator.
“The boys need mentors. If people can come and just spend time with them, it helps. ...Staff at British Gas have really helped with this, doing projects, playing football with them....and we welcome new mentors. If people can come in even once a week, even for an hour, and commit to that, it helps,” said Francis.
Another need is funding — for staff, and for the support programmes. “Everything we get is from donations. Living Waters does some fundraising; British Gas donates; companies such as Newsday and Neal and Massey donate; and we receive a small government subvention,” said Francis. Costs for doctors, counsellors or other specialised support staff can be high — “but this is critical,” said Francis.
Another need is for homes or apartments for the youths after they leave Marian House. Some HDC housing would help a lot here, say Marian House staff. They do have a transition home for semi-independence; however, this for a finite time, so further housing accommodation would be welcomed.
Although some may be inclined to give up on young men with problems, staff at Marian House believe everyone deserves a chance to better themselves. “Overall we are happy and pleased that meaningful intervention has taken place,” said Francis, commenting:
“Give young men a second chance; give them an opportunity.”
Persons or organisations interested in helping, whether in person or through donations, can contact Marian House at 625-6571.