Changing Lives with the Get Kids to School Program

Pounding on the Door of Opportunity

When you hear “Bam Bam” you might envision a person pounding hard on a door, but I see a 17-year-old high school boy I’ve known for eight years — Gifford “Bam Bam” Whyte. He has been pounding on the door of opportunity his whole life. Bam Bam graduated from high school in June.

Boy doing schoolwork

Gifford “Bam Bam” Whyte

Gifford was born into poor circumstances. His father was absent and his mother, Ms. Pansy, a “higgler,” works hard to support her family. I frequently see her pushing her cart to her favorite spot on the “beach road” where she sells fruit and sodas. Ms. Pansy has instilled wonderful values in her children, and Bam Bam did well to catch them.

Bam Bam was in the first group of children in the Get Kids to School (GKTS) program started in September 2011. He was in third grade. Bam Bam was not a stellar student but worked hard. Tutor Ken Cooney worked with Gifford in fourth grade. “I was a tutor from the Rotary Club of Negril, working with at-risk students the school thought would have difficulty passing the national fourth-grade literacy and math tests. I was lucky to get Gifford. He stood out because he understood, at an early age, he had an opportunity and resolved to make the most of it. I have been delighted to see Gifford, year to year, controlling his own development, having a clear plan for his future and taking the right initiatives to get there.”

boy on bicycle

Bam Bam tries to ride a bike for the first time!

Gifford passed his fourth-grade literacy and math tests, by the way. That same year, GKTS awarded him a bicycle for perfect attendance. We all had a good laugh learning Bam Bam didn’t know how to ride it. But being Bam Bam, he quickly learned! In ninth grade he was elected Prefect and in tenth grade, Deputy Head Boy, a prestigious honor. At graduation Bam Bam was awarded trophies for excellence, top-performing male student and best-improved math student. Through it all, Bam Bam never missed a day of school.

Joan Cooney, GKTS director, says of Bam Bam, “He has always taken personal responsibility for his education. He sees something needs doing and just gets on with it. He has one of the most steadfast characters I have come across and takes advantage of every opportunity offered to him.”

Two brothers in from of home

At home with little brother, Preston

Thanks to you, we are changing lives. We’ve helped hundreds of children and their families overcome educational challenges. Each day, monetary problems, transportation hurdles and a lack of resources prove too much for families to handle so kids just don’t go to school. Through it all, GKTS was there to give Gifford, and many other disadvantaged children, the financial and moral support needed to fulfill the dream of graduating from high school.

Bam Bam is knocking on the door of his future again. He is determined to go to college. With the support of GKTS, his mother, and you — and through his hard work and fierce determination — Gifford has been accepted to the University of Technology in Kingston where he will study architecture. A “Big Up” to Bam Bam (that’s Jamaican for congratulations)! Gifford is also the third student to benefit from our Get Kids to School Plus (GKTS+) program, which assists students in college.

Bam Bam and Fr. Jim

A silly-selfie with Fr. Jim

The Franciscan Friars working in the Jamaican missions are having a significant impact on the lives of many desperately poor people. Just like Jesus (Lk 8), our proclamation of the Gospel and outreach to the poor depends on others to assist us. Benefactors are essential. Thanks for helping Bam Bam achieve his dreams and for helping us achieve ours. You are always in our prayers.


Fr. James Bok, O.F.M., Mary, Gate of Heaven Church, Negril, Jamaica

PS: Won’t you answer the knock on the door today? Let’s give these kids a chance to achieve their dreams!

Pleasant Greetings!

I am Gifford Whyte, a graduate of Green Island High School, where I spent five years studying for a secondary education level.

two boys with mother

Gifford with his mother and younger brother, Preston

When I heard that my good friend, Fr. Jim, wanted to write an article about my life growing up I was quite surprised and honored. What first ran across my mind was, “Maybe my success story will be heard and inspire other young people like me.” Some people say that someone great is their inspiration. My greatest inspiration is my mother. My father was absent from my life and I grew up with my mother and my siblings. She works overtime to ensure that we will never need. She always says, “Anything you want, you don’t need.” Growing up in a poor community I have experienced an abundance of hardships. But there was always someone behind me to encourage me and help me keep my dreams alive.

“HELP” is only four letters long, but it is one of the greatest gifts anyone can receive. The truth is that I have received a million plus one of that small word. Amazing people like Fr. Jim, Fr. Colin, Mr. Wellington, Mr. and Mrs. Cooney, Ms. Seon, the Get Kids to School program, Rotary Club of Negril, Negril Education Environment Trust, and many others have HELPED me.

boy with trophies

Gifford with his graduation trophies

They tutored me, encouraged me, and inspired me to work hard and do my best. I know that I have not disappointed them, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart. Fr. Jim always talks about benefactors, people behind him who make what he does possible. To you who have his back, and are helping me through him, a “Big Up” to you! Thank you and God bless you!

I believe that dreams are the baskets that hold the values of one’s life. My utmost dream now is to continue to the next chapter of my educational life, attending the University of Technology for a degree in architecture. God willing and with all this HELP, I will succeed. And as I continue to realize my dreams, I pray that God will always help me to help others realize their dreams, too.


Gifford Whyte, Student

Opening minds and heart to the people of Jamaica

A summary of the St. Henry District High School missionary trip, chaperoned by teacher Alexandra Breeze and Fr. Jim’s niece, Lisa Laudenslayer, and her husband, Dave. The following is taken from a letter by Lisa.


St. Henry students with missionary Stephen Dupuis and novice Josh Richter

Seventeen students from St. Henry District High School traveled to Negril, Jamaica, in June to support the missionary work of the Franciscan Friars.

Fr. Jim Bok and Fr. Colin King, both Ohio natives, hosted the group, introducing them to missionary work and engaging them with the Jamaican community. Pulled from their comfort zones and stripped of electronic devices, the teens set out to support the needs of three parishes and outreach initiatives in and around Negril.

The St. Henry students took part in school visits in Negril and Revival and witnessed, firsthand, the crowded, noisy, and resource-depleted classrooms. At St. Mary Church in Revival the teens also worked alongside local hired help in the Jamaican heat, transporting hundreds of cinder blocks, sand and rocks needed to build a shed at the parish and pig pens and chicken coops for local families. They also picked through burned rubbish, stripped painted metal and more quickly realized the challenges to what seemed like routine projects to American youth.

St. Henry students volunteered at the local schools.

“This trip was one of the best experiences of my life. I didn’t want to leave because I became so close with the people — especially Bam Bam. Weeks after the trip, I cannot stop referencing the experiences and people I met and grew close with.”
— St. Henry student Becca

The St. Henry teens embraced the opportunity to hang out with some teens their own age. Shy at first, the local teens had seen many Americans come to their island; but the St. Henry students invited them to join their group in play, meals and work as their friendship developed. One of the boys, Gifford, known as “Bam Bam,” shared his life-changing story as kid in trouble to now a high school graduate planning to study architecture in college all because of Fr. Jim and missionary support programs. Thanks to technology, the students will be able to follow Bam Bam’s journey and encourage him along the way.

As first-time visitors to Jamaica, we all left with an enhanced world view after experiencing the beauty of the island and its people against the disparity of the resort population and poverty of the local population.

More from the St. Henry Students

students shoveling

St. Henry students transporting rocks for a shed.

“My mission trip to Jamaica was one of the most humbling and worthwhile experiences of my life. Being able to laugh alongside with and relate to the locals in Negril made the laborious service just a time to hang out with friends. I truly did not realize how much I would miss Jamaica and the friends I met until I came back home. I hope to go back.”
— St. Henry student Alex

“I appreciate the many opportunities that I have to achieve my goals in life because people [here] are not as fortunate to have these opportunities.”
— St. Henry student Kylee

“As a teacher, it is the most rewarding experience to see my students in a new light. In Jamaica, they challenged themselves, achieved new goals, broadened their perspectives, and grew in their faith. We were all incredibly lucky to work with Fr. Jim, Fr. Colin, and Br. Steve, who made this mission trip come to life, and the Negril community, which will forever stay in our hearts and our minds.”
— Teacher Alexandra Breeze

Read about Andre Campbell, another GKTS scholar who is thriving in college!