‘The programme really works’
‘Like night and day' is how one might describe the transformation seen in women who've taken part in Government's Community Driven Development programme.
Seventeen women, who stuck with the inaugural programme, started off discouraged and disheartened after struggling to make ends meet due to unemployment or underemployment.
Today the women have found a new lease on life and are working towards a variety of different careers in areas like customer service, law, funeral services and dentistry, to name a few.
The CDD programme, under the auspices of the Department of Human Affairs and Bermuda Women's Council, is aimed at helping participants get back on their feet and able to provide for themselves.
For six months, the women must undergo extensive training in areas like personal and career development — from Monday to Thursday 9am until 1pm.
Deborah (Dee) Bradford, the programme manager for CDD, said: “The first phase is the holistic journey which focuses on the mind, body and spirit. They take exercise classes, learn how to make nutritious meals and take courses that help with their emotional intelligence.
“Statistics will show you that most people who end up being fired or unemployed for various reasons have many employment barriers.
“And a lot of times those programmes work on getting people a job, but don't address those underlying issues. We feel that by doing this we have a greater success rate in helping them to keep a job.”
Next the women go through the personal development and career development parts of the programme.
Under each category there are things like anger management training, relationship education, business etiquette, business planning and resume writing, Ms Bradford explained. CDD staff will also help the women work towards getting formal qualifications and obtaining their GED.
Deborah Blakeney, the Director of the Department of Human Affairs, said many of these women's stories were “extremely powerful”. Some are working to overcome a long history of abuse or poverty, she said.
According to Ms Blakeney, many of these women are not the traditional face of a client on financial assistance.
“What we've noticed is there has been a noticeable increase in the able-bodied unemployed,” Ms Blakeney said. “And then they have another category of underemployed — they are the ones who have a job, but don't make enough to make ends meet.
“So one of our objectives and the benefit that we see coming out of the CDD programme is that some will go from being unemployed to underemployed and some can move from being underemployed to employed. In any case the goal is for them to leave feeling empowered.”
One of the success stories from the programme came within the first couple of months.
CDD staff provided one women help with job interview skills and creating a resume — and watched as she landed work as a front desk operator in the hospitality industry.
“It was her first job interview anywhere, but she was hired,” Ms Blakeney said.
Another success story was when one of their participants known to the courts, was able to show a Magistrate that she was making positive strides.
Sabrina Phillips, the business development manager for CDD, said: “I have seen changes in these women from their presentation, right down to the way they hold themselves and in their own self image.
“One of the things I do is I'm also on a special court jury for Family Court. And one of the participants walked into the court and they had been there many times before the same judge.
“As soon as the participant walked in this time the judge said she could see something different about them the moment they walked through the door.
“She could tell she was different in her demeanour and the way she spoke, so the positive changes in these women is absolutely noticeable.”
All of the participants must take part in volunteer work shadow programmes during their course.
They also get paired up with mentors in their respective industries who provide them with advice and guidance and offer encouragement if they are having a rough day or facing a particular challenge.
Ace Women's Forum have also been instrumental in the CDD programme by facilitating a number of business workshops.
Ms Blakeney said it was a pleasure to hear the facilitators from Ace had actually got something from the experience as well.
“The women on Ace's Women's Forum are very used to dealing with that business environment, so they had to change their approach in order to deliver to our participants,” she said. “They really had to learn a new skill and a way of delivering a message and it was nice to hear they got something out of it as well.”
Since starting the programme, participants have been able to devise a business plan for a day-care facility called Scribbles.
Expected to be open in the near future, the women will be instrumental in getting the centre operational and given training in the various aspects needed to run the facility.
According to Laurie Shiell, Chairwoman of the Bermuda Women's Council, the programme is about much more than getting these women a job.
“We are not just interested in them being employed. We want them to improve themselves as a whole,” she said. “Those positive changes will translate to their family because now they can cook better meals for their family and are eating healthy.
“They can also teach their children about what they're learning and how to break bad habits and bring in more healthy habits to the home.”
For instance if a child sees their mother excited about going back to school and finding a job they are passionate about, then that rubs off on the young people, Ms Blakeney added.
“We are hoping it will break the ‘generational curse' and that child won't end up struggling with unemployment or being on financial assistance,” she said.
The CDD programme has now started its second cohort with a group of 39 women. For more information on the programme, phone 296-0609.