PATERSON, NJ- While stories abound of holiday generosity throughout Paterson one took on special meaning Saturday, not just because of the children it celebrated, but also because of the driving force behind the annual event.
Now in its eighth year, the Holiday Family Event hosted by The Jahmier Foundation Kids of Incarcerated Parents (KOIP) was the brainchild of Jahmier Wilson. The young man, a sophomore at Panther Academy, told TAPinto Paterson that at just seven years old he recognized his friend’s father was in jail, and therefore not around to celebrate the holidays.
“I had a lot of gifts as a child,” Jahmier said with more than a hint of gratitude. “My neighbor and friend didn’t, and I wanted to give back.”
In attendance was Tamil Salaam, a lifelong Paterson resident who, despite crossing to the wrong side of the law in the past has “always tried to be there for (his) daughters.” Currently living at Straight & Narrow halfway house as part required under his drug court sentence from a 2011 conviction, he was grateful to the Foundation for organizing the festivities, providing some "comfort and joy," and putting smiles on his girl's, aged 11 and four, faces.
Asked about his progress in getting clean and back into the community full time Salaam expressed that thanks to the NJ Reentry Corporation "everything's been great"
Though, he said, he "had doubts" at first about the non-profit, led by former Governor Jim McGreevey, it has, he said, assisted him in building a resume, obtaining an ID, and ultimately getting a job in a local company.
Like others, the Saturday event held at the Crossroads Ministry Center wouldn't have been possible without the help of many volunteers, in this instance including members of the Meadow Violets, an African American women's organization committed to community service in Passaic and Essex County.
"We love the mission of the Jahmeir Foundation," Patricia Weston Rivera, the group's chairwoman said. "We are trying make an impact and this is a huge success," she said adding that in addition to attending the group also sponsored Christmas gifts for five families.
Center of Grace, a non-profit organization founded by Mrs. Marie Ligon that advocates for families with children in crisis was also a sponsor.
Calling it "a chance to connect with the community," Brenda Belmont, executive director of the Gilmore Memorial Preschool which is housed right next door, said that this is a time of celebration and that the organizers just want the children to "have the best Christmas they can have."
Several elected officials including Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, Mayor Andre Sayegh, and Councilwoman Dr. Lilisa Mimmis also stopped by to offer their well wishes with Councilwoman Ruby Cotton praising the thought behind the event and saying "every child should be happy, if event for a moment."
"A moment," she said, "can go a long way."
"Who would've thought it would get this far," Jahmier offered as he surveyed the room and took into the dozens of smiling faces. "Paterson is going to get better," he predicted, because "everyone has a chance to be great."
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