Latoya Gohagen-Keddon appreciates how blessed her life is.
The former beauty queen has just completed her Master’s Degree. She has a great job at Union Institute & Universty here in Hollywood, a wonderful husband and a beautiful daughter, and an extended family back home in Point Hill, St. Catherine, Jamaica, whom she gets to visit frequently.
It was on one of those visits home about 10 years ago that she started bringing back school supplies for the children of her family and friends. One trip, she packed them into book bags.
“People rushed for the bags,” she said. Seeing the delight in the eyes of the children, and the parents, and the disappointment of those who missed out, she decided to bring all future supplies packed into bags and paid for most of it herself.
“Even then,” she recalled, “it was kind of private, not registered. It was just me wanting to give back. Remember, it was just the children in my community, in Point Hill, St. Catherines.”
“So that year I brought 43, then it went into the 60s, and then last year, it was the most. I said I’m going to bring 100 book bags and fill them with school supplies. And I ended up with 150! I was so surprised! So I said ‘Thank You, Jesus!’ and this year, family and friends really came together and supported this project so I thought, well, I should move the goal to 150.
“So I moved the goal to 150 and the bookbags started coming in. And then I mentioned it to someone at my church and they put it in the church bulletin. And I’m in a morning prayer line and they put it in the on the prayer line with my phone number and, well, this morning we shipped off 250 book bags filled with school supplies. There was so much that I had to leave my husband there so I could come to work. I am so grateful and so blessed.”
The 150 last year was not enough, she explained, because now, families from neighboring towns are hearing about it and coming into Point Hill to get some book bags and school supplies. Latoya, of course, is ready.
“What I usually do is I just make it a fun day. We get a bounce house, a popcorn machine and ice cream, so the kids can just have a fun time,” she said with a smile. “Then I give the items out. We have the event set for next weekend. I am at 250. I can’t wait to see the looks on the kids’ faces. And the parents can’t thank me enough.”
There are times, said Gohagen-Keddon, when she does get discouraged, especially when faced with high shipping costs and tariffs on both sides. “She has never once asked for anyone to assist,” shared her co-worker Toni M. Soldano, “but people are now learning of her work and contributing.”
“As the years go by I am encouraged and supported by others and we trust that everything is good,” she concluded. “I am truly grateful and truly blessed and as long as the Lord gives me the strength and finances to continue, that is what I’ll do.”
Gohagen-Keddon is planning to become a 501 (c) 3 charity by next year so she can make your donations tax deductible. However, school supplies, book bags or donations toward shipping costs can be dropped off at the school at Union Institute & University, 4601 Sheridan Street, Suite 400, Hollywood, Florida 33021.
Latoya Gohagen-Keddon is the Academic Center Program Advisor at Union Institute & University. She has been collecting school supplies and backpacks for the children in her hometown in Jamaica for several years now. For more information, contact Gohagen-Keddon at 954.284.2126 or [email protected] / www.myunion.edu