Heart of gold

Cosmetologist Charlene Dixon fuelling spirit of charity, volunteerism in St Thomas

BY SEAN A WILLIAMS
Deputy Sport Editor
williamss@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, October 14, 2018

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Linneth Price might not have realised she was sculpting a future humanitarian by her own selfless deeds in the service of the less fortunate in the community. But her granddaughter Charlene Dixon quietly watched and learned.

Today, the cosmetologist of Trinityville, St Thomas, has fashioned her purpose in life off the very examples of her grandmother who passed away in 2008.

The only twist in this tale is that Dixon is writing her own story, no doubt inspired by the priceless lessons of charity and volunteerism taught to her by the late matriarch with whom she spent “all her life” until her death.

Dixon, 29, has taken her spirit to help others to another level, honouring her grandmother's memory by establishing the Bless to Bless Foundation a charity organisation of young people, whose only motivation seemed to be the uncontrollable desire to lend a helping hand.

“The household that I grew up in, my grandmother is always cooking, and at holiday time she would cook and we would deliver the food to the less fortunate… she was always caring and sharing, and I guess that's where I got that from,” said Dixon, the founder and chief executive officer of Bless To Bless.

Even though her foundation is only two years old, the graduate of the HEART School of Cosmetology was reaching out to her community's needy long before then.

“When my grandma passed on, there were some old people in the community, some of them being shut-ins… I felt I needed to help these people and thought to myself that if only I had the money.

“That Christmas I told myself that I was not going to hold back; I was going to take all the money I get from overseas and cook and take Christmas dinner to all the old people in the community, and that was when other people saw what I was trying to do and joined me by supporting with food items, money and their time,” Dixon shared with the Jamaica Observer in an interview at her hairdressing shop in Morant Bay.

But what started out as a normal gesture of kindness soon became a movement of the human spirit.

“But it wasn't long before people started coming to us, telling of people who want help, and though we didn't have money, we would still go in and look at the individuals' conditions and we would try to see what we could do. And somehow we always made something happen from little or nothing,” Dixon said.

As she tells it, the mother of two said she threw herself fully into the cause when the tragic story of a poor, elderly couple tugged at her heart.

“It (charity work) started getting serious when we learned about an elderly couple living across the river in Trinityville who got in some problems… the husband went to the bush and fell down in a hole and was there for two days before help got to him.

“His wife was home alone and she was not able to move around, and without her husband she wasn't even able to light the lamp, so just imagine that.

“A nurse, who is a member of Bless To Bless, came to us and told us that there is this couple who needs our help, and we jumped into action. And let me tell you, when we visited them for the first time the condition was bad… but we were prepared and knew what to expect, so we walked with foodstuff, cleaning stuff, clothing and so on,” recounted Dixon.

The alumna of Seaforth High School recalled that her group had to seek medical help for the woman who had problems getting around.

“We took the wife to the doctor for an X-ray to determine what was wrong with her hip. Clearly it was an X-ray she couldn't afford to pay for, so we did that. After that we adopted that family and make monthly visits where we bring them food and clean up their house,” Dixon noted.

What Dixon and her team did for that family quickly spread to neighbouring communities, and even as far away as the parish capital of Morant Bay.

“With the work we do with that elderly couple, people started hearing about us and the requests started flooding in. So we were getting requests to help shut-ins, people down on their luck, and to help needy children with their back-to-school expenses.

“So with the requests mounting, I sought financial and other help from overseas to assist, and earlier this year the Adina Home Care Services in London sent us funds to assist with books, bags and school fees. For kids leaving basic school and going over to primary school, we supplied reading books,” she said of the foundation's growing portfolio.

Bless To Bless Foundation also undertakes a meal programme through which some of the parish's less fortunate are fed.

“Our feeding programme on Sundays covers Trinityville, surrounding communities, Seaforth and Morant Bay… the people who benefit from this are the homeless, very poor, and our elderly poor and shut-ins. For now, we do this twice a month, but what we want to do is grow to the point where we can do it every Sunday, but this takes money.

“On Mother's Day, we find the mothers who are shut in and who don't have any family and we would bring them food… we also visit the infirmary and bring roses to the bed-ridden mothers there,” Dixon said with a gleam in her eyes.

As she puts it, the Trinityville native said it is nothing short of a miracle how the foundation is able to do all the things it does with its limited resources — financial and material.

Though it gets help from Adina Home Care Services in London, and local businesses Anymoney Supermarket, Bel-Amor Fashions, Mickey Bounce House & More, plus friends and family connections overseas, Bless To Bless is still trying to woo the corporate establishments in St Thomas to its cause.

“We are still trying to get other companies to support our efforts, but we are still waiting on their responses. And that is why we get into fund-raising, because we can't sit around and wait on these people indefinitely because people's needs are happening right now.

“With greater and broader support we would love to be able to feed more people, help more school kids, and to do more in fixing up the homes of the elderly and giving them household items and furniture where there is a need,” said Dixon, in an impassioned plea to local businesses.

At the moment, the foundation's main fund-raising activities are cake sales and tag drives. Also, it executes a New Year's Day treat for the elderly and children. Next year's event will be held in Sunning Hill in the parish.

“We want to have to build on our annual treat where on New Year's Day where we get the elderly, the shut-ins and the children to come out and enjoy a day of fun and food… next year we want to give all our shut-ins grocery baskets,” Dixon outlined.

She said that it tears at her heart when people come to the foundation for help and the resources are not readily available to meet the needs.

“We just want to raise money that we can be in a position to assist people when they need it… we want to have something (funds and resources) on hand always to assist people when they reach out to us.

“Right now people come to us for everything and right now the demand for our help is more than we can meet… right now there is a little girl with an eye problem and we now have to try and seek help for her, but if we had like funds set aside, we wouldn't have to go out on a drive to get help; we would just take funds from our account and help her,” Dixon said.

The former St Thomas Technical High sixth-former believes her charity work is not just an answer to a higher calling, but her destiny. Therefore, failure is not an option. In fact, her vision takes on lofty proportions.

“I want to see my foundation at a level of the big charities, where persons can come in and ask for any kind of help and we can in turn render it. And I am talking about housing, health care, clothing, education, feeding programmes, you name it. The reality is we are doing little bits of all of that right now.

“I just want to get to that stage where people would contribute without having second thoughts, knowing that their money, goods, and their time are in service of a good cause,” said Dixon, who has embarked on advanced studies in the area of cosmetology.

She said the foundation's work is not only touching the lives of its benefactors, but the young people who are learning the value of giving back to the community.

“Another good thing about what we do is that it pulls together the young people in the communities… when we do our projects a lot of young men, in particular, would come and help and they are excited to help as well. And you know that these days it's easy for young people to get sucked into a life of crime.

“But the foundation is teaching them the value of charity and volunteerism, and I think it is great when you can get young people to be a part of something good, and so the foundation is fulfilling a purpose.

“I think charity and volunteerism are crucial to a country, especially in Jamaica where you cannot depend on Government. So if you are a part of a community and you see where you can help someone, then you should not wait on Government… if you are going to wait on Government to fix all our problems, then chances are they will never get fixed,” Dixon reasoned.

For her work with the Bless To Bless Foundation, Dixon is a nominee for the 2018 Prime Minister's Youth Award, but she wants to make it clear that “I am not doing this for personal recognition”.

“Look at the Prime Minister Youth Award, I am a nominee and I am not overly excited about it as I am just focused on the work of Bless To Bless and I just want to get the work done, and hopefully at the end of the day we can leave a smile on somebody's face,” she concluded.

In her boundless energy to expand and rationalise operations, Dixon has already set up an affiliate called Little Helpers to focus on the interests of children

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