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March 16, 2013
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Widowed father of seven gets house

Students from the St Joseph Academy, United States, build a two-bedroom house for 44-year-old widowed father Leslie Lewis and his seven young children in Gregory Park. - Contributed photos

Close to the end of January 2013, a group of students from St Joseph Academy (SJA) in the United States joined Food For The Poor (FFTP) Jamaica for a mission trip and got a glimpse of the poor living conditions of a widowed father of seven from Gregory Park.

Determined to make a difference, 19 juniors and seniors from the institution returned to the community recently not just for a casual visit, but to construct a two-bedroom home for the family.

On February 27, the team of students and four chaperones, with hammers, paint and paintbrushes in hand, worked assiduously alongside FFTP contractors to build and paint the home, which included sanitation facilities.

Within five hours, the structure was complete and the recipients presented with the keys to their new home, furniture, clothing, toys, personal-care items and school supplies. "Words are not enough to say what this gift means to us as a family," said the emotional 44-year-old father, Leslie Lewis, "They (SJA) came and saw our situation and decided to do something about it by giving us a more comfortable and secure home - they never had to do this for us. I am so thankful,"

Prior to the intervention of SJA and FFTP Jamaica, Lewis lived in a deteriorating, one-room concrete structure with his seven children, ages 16, 15, 13, 7, 5 and one-year-old twin boys. The structure was no more than 20 feet long and 8 feet wide, and was without sanitation. The family of eight shared three beds.

More comfortable

An occasional taxi operator, Lewis tried desperately to provide for his family, but as he explained, "I could not afford to build a better home for us, especially when my wife died in 2012 after giving birth to the twin boys. Both my wife and I wanted to give our children a more comfortable home, especially for my two eldest children, both females, who needed their own space and privacy."

Thanks to the students and FFTP, Lewis' dream has become a reality. "Now my children can have a home that they can be proud of," declared Lewis.

Building homes for the poor in Jamaica has always been part of the mission of St Joseph Academy. According to the campus minister, Deacon Bryan Ott, the academy has been partnering with FFTP for the past 13 years, and each mission trip involves building homes for the destitute.

"A group of students met the family in January of this year and we decided to channel our fund-raising efforts towards building a home for them, because the need was obvious.

We continue to partner with FFTP, because it's always a fulfilling experience to be able to improve the lives of the less fortunate and we are indeed happy to have assisted Mr Lewis and his children," Deacon Ott said. "Some of the students in this group are coming for the first time while others are repeat participants.However, one thing is true for all of us; we always leave feeling as if we have received far more than we have given to the beneficiaries."

Social outreach manager at FFTP Marcia Hall-Walker said that the charity's aim is to foster transformation as participants get the opportunity to participate in the work and interact with the poor face to face."Today's project was a life-changing experience for all the participants, and we are happy to have shared in this occasion with SJA in providing a home for the Lewis family.

We encourage corporate Jamaica to join us in this mission as we help one person, one family at a time," she added.

Since its inception 30 years ago, FFTP has provided in excess of 22,000 Jamaicans with comfortable and secure housing. In 2012, a total of 1,166 houses were built for the poor.

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