From being a taxi operator to owning a college, former high school drop-out Kerine Davis is now a force with which to reckon in education and business.
Her institution, Ocho Rios College, has become a bastion of excellence, which also has a reputation for providing millions of dollars worth of scholarships to at-risk young people.
The scholarship recipients include residents of Davis’ tough community of Faulkland, also called Mansfield Heights, in Ocho Rios, St. Ann.
“I am from the ghetto,” she declared. “Born and raised in a community like Mansfield Heights, you have to set yourself above the rest because, if you are not keen on what you are doing, you will get distracted.”
Davis said her father, who was a strict disciplinarian, ensured that she and her three siblings were kept in line.
Davis attended Exchange Primary School and Brown’s Town High, as well as Oracabessa High School where she got pregnant in Grade 10.
“My mind wasn’t in the right place at that time,” she told The Beacon. “Of course my parents were so much disappointed, but I had to just go along with whatever happened.”
Davis, after giving birth, did not resume studies in secondary school. “My parents weren’t rich, but they tried their best as long as they were responsible for us. Once I got pregnant, I had to start taking on life by myself,” she explained.
Her parents gave her a house spot at Mansfield Heights and she built a small house on it while still a teen.
Davis ended up in dire straits financially, and so she started beating the pavements of Ocho Rios, seeking jobs especially at well-established fast food restaurants.
She got one at Island Grill.
“When the manager gave me that job, it was a Wednesday afternoon. She gave me 900 Best Dressed chickens to marinate and clean,” Davis recalled. “I marinated and cleaned those chickens as if I am filing the documents in my office. That’s how I did it with pride.”
She toiled in the background until one day when a cashier did not show up for work and she was asked to fill the slack, she said.
To her surprise, a happy customer, whom she does not know, wrote a letter in one of the national newspapers commending her.
Davis explained that she cut the letter from the newspaper and presented it in her subsequent search for employment.
That’s how she landed a job at Sandcastles Resort in Ocho Rios. “From there on, it was no turning back,” she said.
While working at Sandcastles, Davis acquired a Toyota Caldina motorcar and ventured into the taxi business, where she spent six years. She also drove a bus on the route between Ocho Rios and Brown’s Town in her native parish.
Davis later left Jamaica for Barbados as a construction worker, but was deported for overstaying.
Not allowing that episode to cripple her, she eventually sent herself back to school, acquiring certificates in nursing and business administration.
She later travelled to the Bahamas and, after a brief stint there, she returned to Jamaica and opened an internet café – T&G Employment Agency and Document Centre.
While offering a range of services, Davis realized that many of her customers lacked basic skills, and so she started to assist them.
“I started [the college] from helping people who came to the internet café,” she told The Beacon.
Davis officially opened Ocho Rios College on October 9, 2012 with 40 students inside the Falcon Crest building in Ocho Rios.
The institution later relocated to Little Pub Complex, then Milford Road, then Newlin Street, and eventually to its current home at Buckfield – all in Ocho Rios.
Starting a college was not a stroll in the proverbial park, according to Davis, who said she went on to obtain a degree in Educational Leadership and Management at the University of the West Indies.
One of the most difficult tasks, she disclosed, was to financially keep the institution afloat.
“I remember times when I had to go to other countries and work and send money back to Jamaica to pay rent and pay the teachers – just for the school to grow,” Davis said.
Another challenge was to secure accreditation from the National Council on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (NCTVET).
There were naysayers, but things dramatically changed for the better after Davis met Stacy-Ann Gayle who, at the time, was employed to Boys’ Town Vocational Training Centre in Kingston.
Gayle gave her invaluable advice and opportunities.
Davis did not drop the ball.
Her college, prior to the coronavirus pandemic, had 13 employees and some 150 students on three shifts.
The students are allowed to pursue a wide range of courses in the areas of hospitality, business, and medicine.
Work experience is guaranteed, Davis noted, adding that students who perform well usually stand a great change of obtaining permanent employment.
“I give myself to my students,” declared the educator extraordinaire.
The sense of pride and joy she gets whenever her graduates succeed is inexplicable.
But Davis is not only a stickler for career advancement and character development.
She is also an epitome of benevolence – as manifested partly in her giving back at least five scholarships annually to members of the community.
“The last graduation we had in January of this year, I gave away 40 scholarships to the 40 graduates and told them to find somebody in their community and give the scholarships to. That was my way of giving back – of reaching out to someone who is in need,” Davis said.
Asked how she eventually would like to be remembered, the mother of three told The Beacon: “I would like people to remember me as a go-getter and someone who paved the way for others. I would also like to die leaving Ocho Rios College as a legacy for St. Ann and for Mansfield Heights.”
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