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Shots fired at worker triggered Parks scheme

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In 2011 the government issued a clear message after shots were fired at a Parks Department staff member as he worked: for change to happen everyone had to get involved.

Especially concerned as the target was one of their own, Roger Parris and Sam Santucci took it to heart.

Together they created the Skills Development Programme, a scheme that teaches people about horticulture and landscaping.

It’s aimed at males and females between the ages of 16 and 40, although older people who are willing to commit to the rules in place are welcome.

About 80 people have worked their way through the five-month programme. Roughly 50 per cent have found a full-time job as a result.

“I’ve always liked working with young people and CedarBridge [Academy] always used to ask if students could come for their day release. That’s basically how it started,” Mr Parris said.

Following the shooting on the roundabout at the junction of Trimingham Road and South Shore Road in Paget, he started thinking how the ad hoc arrangement might be improved.

“We realised young people are good with their hands and their listening skills but when it comes to the academic part, a lot of them don’t like it. And so we came up with SDP and we found that it worked,” said Mr Parris, a supervisory foreman who joined the Parks Department about 25 years ago.

Anyone who signs up must attend at least three days a week. Apart from horticultural skills what’s stressed is the importance of basic work etiquette; of being on time, of calling when you cannot make it in that day. Participants do not receive a salary although they are given lunch each day and, if they work well, receive cash bonuses. To graduate they must successfully complete hands-on training and verbal assessments.

“It’s just teaching them the basic life skills, what they need to do to get a full-time job,” said Mr Parris, who volunteers the extra hours he gives on work days and alternate weekends. “It’s amazing. The simple things that we think that people know they don’t, because nobody really took the time out to teach them.

“Most important is productivity, do a day’s work for a day’s pay.”

He believes part of the reason why their efforts have been successful is because so many different arms of the community are involved. Help is given to anyone interested in getting their GED; there is close contact with family members, the courts, the Department of Financial Assistance, the Bermuda Police Service and the Bermuda Industrial Union.

Participants are put to work in the island’s parks and also in privately owned spaces such as Palm Grove Gardens and Coral Beach & Tennis Club.

“The biggest thing I like about the programme is, everybody says you can’t bring people together from all over the island, we have kids from all over and they get along. We found that one of the reasons why our young people get in trouble is because they’re so idle, there’s nothing to do. But when they find something to do and they like it, they forget about all the other stuff. One thing they learn about landscaping is that in order to be successful and to get things done you’ve got to work as a team.”

With no advertising at all, 30 people applied for spots a few weeks ago.

“It’s telling us that a lot of people want to learn horticulture and a lot of people are looking to find a trade to get a full-time job. And what we’re telling the landscape companies, and even government, is that we don’t mind doing the hard part: training them, teaching them right and wrong.

“We’re getting a lot of landscape companies calling us and asking do we have somebody or how can we help with [various projects]. So that means we’re doing something right.”

He’s grateful that the government and the BIU give them the time to run the programme – Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works, is “a big supporter”.

“Another big thank you has to go to the Garden Club [of Bermuda] because if they didn’t stand up to be our charity, it would have been even harder for us. If we raise money it goes to them and when we need something [they help fund it].”

His hope is to see SDP continue to grow long after he and Mr Santucci have walked away from it.

“In Bermuda right now, we don’t have a lot of young entrepreneurs. This could be a number one field. These guys can learn the trade and then get out there and start and then they could teach a young person. It’s a field that you know is never going to die.”

To be a part of the Skills Development Programme send an e-mail: sdpbermuda@gmail.com

Roger Parris (centre) created the Skills Development Programme, which teaches young people about horticulture and landscaping (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Roger Parris (right) created the Skills Development Programme, which teaches young people about horticulture and landscaping (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published November 24, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated November 23, 2020 at 1:50 pm)

Shots fired at worker triggered Parks scheme

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