A triumph of community spirit
By Leanne McGrath
Residents and community groups in North Hamilton are pulling together to improve the area’s reputation and demonstrate the resilience and strength of its people.
Community spirit is thriving and groups of dedicated locals and youngsters are working hard to prove people in the area are dedicated to building a better Bermuda.
One of the many initiatives under way is an effort to open a new community centre, with a proposed location being the old rest home on Parsons Road, which is owned by the Pembroke Parish Council.
The Family Centre — a charity that helps families affected by problems such as abuse and neglect — is working with residents and the Bermuda Coalition to make the dream a reality.
“Residents in that area are very invested in getting this building,” said Martha Dismont, executive director of the Family Centre. “There are some extraordinary residents in Pembroke. We’ve been listing the things we want to see in Bermuda to bring forward positives in the community.”
Youngsters from the area who are involved with the Family Centre’s Youth Development Zone programme hope to play a key part in making the neighbourhood, and the Island as a whole, a better place.
“We want to make sure our kids are involved,” Mrs Dismont said. “When many people think about young people in Pembroke, it’s often with negative connotations. But they’re a major part of the community.
“We don’t want our kids just to be productive citizens, we want them to be civic-minded. They will be residents in that area and are helping to build the community.
“We hope to inspire better service to the community and positive self-development.”
Mrs Dismont is keen for anyone who wishes to assist in the area, especially in helping to support the development of the community centre, to contact the Family Centre.
“We want residents to know there are donors, agencies and organisations that are very invested in their success,” she said.
“It’s a privilege to allow the many agencies and the Family Centre into your space to work with you.”
Mrs Dismont said the Family Centre was involved in helping to set up a Youth Development Zone in North Hamilton, which was launched in response to the growing problems affecting youngsters, including violence, gangs, failing school and troubled communities. Family problems are at the heart of these issues, according to the Family Centre, and by building family, school, and community relationships, the team hopes to help youngsters stay out of trouble.
North Hamilton was chosen for the zone due to the heavy gang presence and high rates of abuse and neglect. But the area was also selected because of the strong community resources and determination to make positive changes.
“The Youth Development Zone tries to get people to work together to define what they want to see in their community, and pull them together to make that happen,” said Leila Wadson, community development team leader at the Family Centre. “The kids have so much going for them, they’re amazing youth leaders. They really have a lot to offer but there are a lot of challenges around them.
“The community spirit up in North Hamilton is even greater than in other communities. The community may be hidden by environmental conditions, but we are supporting them to change these conditions in partnership with other agencies, such as the police, Bermuda Red Cross and the Economic Empowerment Zones Agency, under BEDC.”
Ms Wadson said the Family Centre’s Youth Leadership Programme, which is just one of the services on offer in the Youth Development Zone, was helping youngsters to realise that “young people can all be leaders and all have something to contribute”.
The project has three phases — the Youth Police Initiative, the Youth Leadership Academy, and the Youth Leadership Community.
The first phase is a week-long after-school initiative in which youngsters meet police officers and build relationships — and they get paid for attending.
“It builds trust and understanding,” Ms Wadson said. “It’s intensive and transformative — they learn their voice is valued and they can contribute, that the police do listen to them and their experiences of the police service.”
Bermuda Police Service said it “welcomes the opportunity to participate in the Youth Police Initiative”.
The service praised the project for helping officers to build positive relationships with youngsters and said the number of officers who volunteered to take part, unpaid and in their own time, had grown over the years — from nine during the initial event to 20 this year.
Officers from a range of units — including Community Policing, Police Support, Serious Crime, Armed Response, and the Gang Target Team — have been involved.
Inspector Scott Devine, of the Community Action Team, who has been taking part since the scheme’s inception, said it “gives officers from all over the service the opportunity to break down barriers and build relationships with young people on the Island”.
“We want to show them we have a vested interest in them and their development and growth as citizens,” he added. “We’re committed to continue that support. We’ve seen the benefits over the years and seen the programme go from strength to strength.
“Officers have readily volunteered their time to get involved because they enjoy the interaction and recognise the value of building relationships with our young people.”
After the Youth Police Initiative, youngsters move on to the Youth Leadership Academy — a five-month programme during which the youngsters are exposed to different people and situations to encourage them to think. They also carry out a community project of interest.
“There is a focus on four things — that they are all leaders, the need to be self-aware, to have vision and set goals, and to be an agent of positive change in the community,” Ms Wadson said. “One group did a project, Don’t Judge Me Until You Know Me, that said, ‘just because I grew up on the streets doesn’t mean I’m in a gang, just because I wear a hoodie, it doesn’t mean I’m trouble, it means my ears are cold. Get to know me before you make a judgment that limits my potential.’
“A group was concerned about animals and volunteered at WindReach. Another was concerned about teen sex so created public service announcements, like ‘if you think a baby will make him stay, you’re wrong’. They think about their concerns. A group wanted to do something around the gang situation, and a group of girls were putting out the message that ‘he thinks he’s cool but he can’t even go to Somerset to take me to the movies’. The girls were holding guys accountable, saying, ‘you think it’s cool to be in a gang but it puts us off.’
“Some kids did a water clean-up. We partnered with the Parks Department and picked up garbage in the ocean.
“It’s a youth-led programme, they decide what they want to do.”
The final phase, Youth Leadership Community, follows the youngsters until they complete high school and offers tailored support to meet their needs and help them achieve their goals. Opportunities for them include summer internships, and youngsters are currently earning a summer pay cheque at companies including Belco, Elbow Beach, Grotto Bay, and WindReach.
“The internships focus on achieving something,” Ms Wadson said. “They get a pay cheque, but they have to demonstrate timeliness, respect and effort.”
There are more than 40 youngsters taking part in the Youth Leadership Academy, which launched in 2011.
“There are kids who would be in trouble without this programme,” Ms Wadson said. “We’re building a community of kids who know they are part of a positive group, and building a community of parents.
“The Youth Leadership Community is not just those 40 or so kids, it’s also their families.
“We’ve had so many partnerships and had kids talking to hundreds of different individuals keen to share their experiences, skills and talents, in hopes they inspire young people.
“It really is a community — the kids are at the centre but it’s a community of people and organisations who want to see all of our children succeed.”
The Family Centre praised the support of its partners for the Youth Leadership Academy, including significant support to the youngsters from the Ascendant Group. Mrs Dismont hailed long-term donors such as XL Foundation, Ace Group of Companies, HSBC, Bank of Bermuda Foundation, Atlantic Philanthropies, Fidelity Foundation and Oil Insurance Co. She also acknowledged the funding partnership with Partner Re and Brian Duperreault to make the Youth Police Initiative and Building My Future internship programmes possible.
“These donors are invested in our youth,” she added.
Mrs Dismont said additional funding was always welcome.
“We could always use donations, always use more funding,” Mrs Dismont said. “We want to continue to support success for our young people. It benefits everybody.”
For information about the Family Centre or the Youth Leadership Academy, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 232-1116.
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