By Gemma Handy
From counselling troubled youngsters to organising food drives and representing the nation at basketball, Kelvin Simon – better known as ‘Shugy’ – is a familiar face to many.
And now the 42-year-old professional guidance counsellor and personal trainer says his multi-faceted background has provided a solid foundation for perhaps his most significant endeavour to date – entering politics.
Yesterday, the father-of-one was announced as the United Progressive Party’s (UPP) candidate to contest the St Mary’s South seat against incumbent Samantha Marshall. He has replaced Corthwright Marshall who was removed from the UPP’s slate earlier this month amid concerns for his health.
Simon told Observer the volume of congratulatory phone calls and messages he had received since the news was confirmed on Monday morning had been “overwhelming”.
He cited a passion for his community – and particularly the young people who call it home –as the driving force behind his decision to run.
“The fact that I live here, that I drive through, walk through and interact with people every day, gives me a clear picture of what is needed,” he said.
And he didn’t mince words when speaking of the current state of the south-west area he hopes to represent.
“There’s definitely a lack of attention as it relates to cleaning. It’s filthy – the worst I’ve ever seen it in all my years living here,” Simon continued.
In addition to sprucing up public spaces, he hopes to be given the chance to implement new sporting programmes too.
“The community is filled with potential. But there is nothing in place for football, basketball, cricket, outside of the regular sporting clubs. Nothing is being done by the government to help develop these areas and that’s a great concern,” he said.
A self-described “fitness enthusiast”, Simon is an ardent advocate of the role exercise plays in mental wellbeing.
“I’m at the gym almost every day trying to keep my body in shape but it does a lot for the mind too. The body wasn’t made to be inactive; the more active it is, the better all the parts work.
“Exercising releases tension hormones, so when you’re having a stressful day or something is really hard on the mind, exercising and getting that fresh flow of blood and oxygen to the brain offers a lot of release,” the former national athlete explained.
But the cause closest to Simon’s heart is his full-time job as a counsellor at St Mary’s Secondary School in Bolans – the village in which he was raised and still resides.
Simon, who has a 12-year-old son, has been working in the field for 16 years with previous roles at Villa Primary and Ottos Comprehensive.
“A lot of the kids are coming from backgrounds where there is no guidance in the home. To be in a position where I am able to impact young minds and keep them on the right track gives me great motivation to go in every day,” he said.
“I myself grew up without proper guidance and I am what I am today by the grace of God. Some good people within the community took me under their wing to make sure I didn’t go astray and now that I’m in a position to offer that same guidance gives me great joy.”
Simon said educational campaigns aimed at both children and parents would reap dividends in years to come.
“Kids often feel like they’re not listened to, that they don’t have a voice, that no one is championing their cause. When that happens they can lean towards deviant behaviour in circles where they feel loved and accepted – and that to me is one of the biggest concerns.
“I want to create a platform where kids feel heard, and an avenue where they feel accepted and loved and can get guidance,” he explained.
Some of Simon’s greatest successes are manifested in the accomplishments of those he has previously helped.
“Some of the kids I counselled at Villa Primary are now adults, some have their own businesses, some are in managerial positions; they come up to me and thank me for the advice.
“It gives me goose-bumps to know simple words can mean so much to people. You never know what someone is going through at a particular time, so just to offer kind words goes a long way and this is why I take pleasure in the work I do,” he said.
“Kids don’t stay small forever. Just being there for them and being kind to them goes a long way to helping society, not just now but in the future.”
Asked for his sentiments on vying for the seat against Agriculture Minister Samantha Marshall, Simon said he felt the constituency had been “neglected” in recent years.
“I listen to the people’s cries and they are not pleased with the level of representation they have been receiving for the last two terms. I just want to see the best for the community, that’s all,” he said.
Despite growing up in a household that supported the now ruling Labour Party, Simon revealed that he felt running for the ABLP would have been contrary to his conscience.
“The track record for the UPP speaks very loud. If I look at the other side, I can’t say the same. I believe in putting people first, looking out for them, and this is what I see in the UPP,” he said.
For its part, the country’s main opposition party said it welcomed Simon to the slate, adding that Corthwright Marshall would continue to play a leading role in the UPP’s affairs.
Simon also spoke highly of the preceding candidate.
“I appreciate him for the work he has done, he’s a good man who’s done a lot in the community and is highly respected,” he said, adding, “It’s unfortunate that he can’t finish the fight but we have to finish it for him.”