Angela Plunkett, who describes herself as a woman of God, has been working with young people for 15 years in an outreach programme at Swallowfield Chapel, known as Youth Reaching Youth (YRY).
Born and raised in the tough community of Denham Town, Plunkett told All Woman that her desire to help people improve their lives was evident from a young age.
“Growing up in Denham Town with my mother and father back then was great. We were not allowed to go through the gate once we got home from school or church. We were locked in and allowed to play only with whomever was in that yard. My mother would call me and say, ‘Mousey, come and tell me what you learnt at school today. She gave me charcoal to write on the wall and show her what I learnt and tell her how the work was done, and I would show her how to add and read. I did not know that my mother could not read or do maths, but I was helping her at the same time as well.”
However, she explained that as she progressed into adolescence, like any other teen she lost her way.
“By the time I was 11 I was sent to live with a stepmother and I wasn’t comfortable. As I progressed into the adolescent years, I wanted to find out things and I started to have fun going to parties and sort of lost my way. Though I had the ability to make my friends laugh, when I got back home I was lonely and afraid,” she said.
She added: “A sense of confusion and woundedness enveloped me. I thought I was escaping my problems in my own way by partying and doing things contrary to my value systems, but I wasn’t. I had to face the reality.”
With the help of her church members and friends, Plunkett got hold of her life, learnt to forgive herself, others who caused her injury, and make amends with those she caused injury.
“I am who I am today because of that intervention, so how can I not give back? There’s no greater joy,” she said.
Her journey with youth began at the RISE Life Management Services, formerly Addiction Alert, where she was instrumental in the development and empowerment of their Adolescent Facilitators Programme, where she worked with schools and communities in the Kingston Metropolitan and rural areas to help with various addictions such as marijuana, cocaine and alcoholism and enabling peer prevention and drug prevention strategies.
While at Addiction Alert, Plunkett received a fellowship to the International Visitors Leadership Programme where she was afforded the opportunity to visit US public and private organisations, look at their drug prevention programmes, take back aspects, and modify them for suitability to the Jamaican context.
During this time she also received her bachelor of arts degree in general education from the Jamaica Theological Seminary (JTS) and received diplomas in human resource management and addiction studies.
She is also the recipient of the Ford Motor Company International Fellowship where she studied at Columbia University and focused on leadership in a changed world.
Having recommitted her life to God, she said she knew a call was on her life to enter full-time ministry, but when she thought about the provisions of the world it became difficult to say ‘yes’.
However, again with the help of her Christian brethren, Plunkett said she came to a place to wholeheartedly believe that if the Lord called her to service, He would provide for her.
Plunkett was sent by her church to do a master of science in education at Nova Southeastern University in Florida, as they wanted to address the problems of youth at the community level and needed someone to design the programme.
On her return from studying, Plunkett, also an adjunct lecturer at JTS, said her church team met, looked at some of the community’s needs, and contracted a research agency to go into the communities and do an assessment of needs of youth there.
“It was found that the community had several assets and people needed to know how to harness the assets for the betterment of the community. We had a lot of youth on street corners and teenage pregnancy was on a high in the community at the time. The youth were asking for intervention that was geared at addressing their needs — empowering them and changing their realities,” she said.
As a result, Plunkett and the team from Swallowfield took a group of young people from communities who said they wanted to be seen and not just heard, placed them at the forefront of discussions, and designed a programme — YRY — that was youth-driven and adult-guided to meet their needs.
“We took 19 youth and trained them in peer-to-peer strategies, trained them in life skills, biblical studies, street-corner evangelism, peer education, and at the core was the message of Christ. YRY is transforming communities and nations through empowered Christ-centred youth leaders. We also got funding through corporate Jamaica and today we have NGO status,” she said.
Now in its 15th year with Plunkett as principal of the programme, YRY caters to approximately 58 youth leaders who are trained in life skills messages that are Christ-centred, to transition into the mission field and into vocational and higher institutions for learning.
“They use it to go into communities and transform schools. We do classroom interventions and work alongside guidance counsellors, large group presentations at general devotions, and we train the executive arm of the school as peer counsellors. The reality is you won’t be with your child every day. To date we have impacted over 65,000 youth through schools and communities. I’ve seen youth come to YRY broken and depressed with a sense of loss and leave making a positive impact in life. We believe in being a church without walls — to go into the trenches and meet people where they’re at. We also network with HEART in the provision of vocational skills and we have graduated over 300 people.”
In her downtime she can be found gardening, spending time with her children Angelica and Justin, as well as her husband Desmond.
A nature lover, she enjoys the likes of Irie River and Hope Gardens and believes that Christ rewards those who diligently seek Him.
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