Melody Tipton goes to Jamaica as often as she can. But Tipton is not your usual tourist, enjoying the beaches and night life. She visits infirmaries and orphanages, bringing teams of people, gifts, medical supplies, building materials and love.
When she is not on what she calls a “Jamaica adventure,” Tipton can be found at Family Practice Associates of Lexington, where she is medical information manager over medical records, among other duties concerned with the daily operations of the 10-doctor firm. She started as a part-time medical transcriptionist at the Alysheba Way practice 25 years ago.
“I work for a great bunch of doctors at Family Practice Associates of Lexington who always support me on these trips with money for ice cream parties for the kids, medical supplies, time off and good wishes,” Tipton said.
Tipton’s first trip to Jamaica was in 1998. Although she does not organize a trip every year, the “adventures” usually take place during the Christmas holidays and typically last about 10 days. Tipton assembles a team that may include as few as five or six persons or as many as 30. They stay in a guest house that is available to them. College students and others who want to go make up the team. Team members pay their own way or raise money from donors. A trip for one person costs about $1,200.
On a recent trip, the team included 30 persons. They had with them 4,200 pounds of “stuff,” as Tipton calls it, to be used for and/or given to the people of Jamaica.
Recalling one typical trip, Tipton said, “Our team built and painted a new house in the rain and painted another house that had been built the week before. We did Christmas/ice cream parties at three orphanages with gifts for everyone, visited an infirmary and had church at the prison there.”
After conducting Sunday school and worship services at a local church, the team went into the nearby town and passed out 300 Bible tracts. In addition, they sent a suitcase of supplies to an infirmary. Five suitcases of Christmas “stuff” for the kids plus $500 cash went to another village that had sustained severe damage from hurricanes. The people in this village, Tipton noted, were “extremely poor.”
Another one of Tipton’s teams raised $4,000 to pay for louvers and screens to cover more than 200 windows and 18 doors in an infirmary. The materials help keep out rats and bugs. “It was a last-minute thing,” said Tipton, “so another team installed them the next week after we had to leave.”
Tipton recalled visiting an infirmity where more than half the patients were mentally handicapped and all were skinny from hunger. But a man with no legs sitting in a wheelchair told her with a huge smile, “I am blessed!”
“It makes you want to kick yourself,” Tipton said. “The culture shock catches up with you eventually. There are so many emotions – guilt, thankfulness, questions. You see these people in your mind over and over and wonder why on earth people have to live like that. It’s hard.”
She also told about a time at an orphanage where a little boy sat alone. He had been badly abused and had little hope. Tipton said the child threw his arms around a team member’s neck and said, “I love you for spending time with me!” He had not even seen his gifts. He just wanted somebody to talk to him.
Tipton said the people in Jamaica call her a “Jamerican.” “They count me as one of their own and I feel honored and blessed by their love,” she said.
Her trips to the island have changed her perspective. “We are so very spoiled, and that’s okay. God has blessed us; we just need to be thankful,” Tipton said. “There’s no crime in enjoying His blessings. The crime is in the thanklessness.”
By Martha Evans Sparks, Staff Writer