BONNIE BRAE’S WORK EXPERIENCE PROGRAM FEATURED AT NATIONAL CONFERENCE
Once again, Bonnie Brae’s Work Experience Program has been nationally featured as a model for other Residential Treatment Centers. Last month Bonnie Brae’s Director of Operations, Jason Bossart, and Structured Learning Experience Coordinator, Sharon Singleton, traveled to Wisconsin to present a workshop at Cardinal Stritch University. Having presented the Work Experience Program previously at the Association of Children’s Residential Centers annual conference, the ACRC thought the Annual Youth Workforce Conference would be the perfect forum for them to provide insight and education to a more diverse audience.
Jason and Sharon were excited to do the presentation, not only for the opportunity to share their first-hand accounts of the program’s impact, but also because now, four years after the program began, they have data that supports the program’s success. In 2016, only 34% of Bonnie Brae youth were employed 3 years post-discharge, and now in 2018, that number has risen to 58%. Additionally, Bonnie Brae has awarded over 135 OSHA, CareerSafe Cyber Safety, CareerSafe Safety Awareness, and ServSafe certifications and has accumulated more than 5,800 off-grounds community service hours since the inception of Brae Builders in 2008.
The event was attended by youth and teachers from Residential Treatment Centers across the nation as well as others working in different aspects of at-risk youth. Jason and Sharon were gratified to be able to share their experiences, and help provide guidance and suggestions to help other programs succeed. According to Sharon this presentation was more interactive as the audience had so many great questions. Sharon shared, “Instead of centering on Bonnie Brae’s program and journey, we focused more on how to successfully start a program in your own community. It’s all about finding people’s passions and strengths.”
Jason added, “One of the things Bonnie Brae does well is working collaboratively across all aspects of our programming to achieve success for our youth. The Work Experience Program is a clear example of our community coming together and thinking creatively. This seems to be a stumbling block for many other programs so it was great to be able to share specific examples of how we did this, and then help them brainstorm for their own communities.”
One great example of this creativity in action is the engagement of youth with the Bonnie Brae Food Services Team. Jason and Sharon have worked with the head of Food Services (Kim) to develop paths for several different young men, one of whom had a passion for cooking. In addition to obtaining his ServSafe certification, this young man was interested in entering a cooking contest. Kim worked with him one on one to develop some of his skills, and then honed in what was required for the contest. He began to work more independently, entered the cooking contest and won third place. Another young man began by cleaning the cafeteria. When he proved himself to be reliable and successful, he obtained his ServSafe Certification. Today, he is a student supervisor for other youth helping in the cafeteria.
In addition to on-campus opportunities, Sharon has successfully cultivated more than 16 outside community partnerships. On any given day youth are going off-grounds working as volunteers in the community with organizations such as Morris Habitat for Humanity, America’s Grow-A-Row, Liberty Science Center, Raptor Trust and more. The youth love this experience because as Sharon says, “They like to feel accomplished, and quite frankly it helps them to feel more ‘normal’. When we first began the program I didn’t think kids would want to go, but it truly is the highlight of the week for them. I now have partners seeking our youth out.”
Bonnie Brae’s Work Experience Program evolved from a desire to better prepare the at-risk young men Bonnie Brae serves for the workforce. Prior to creating the program, results from a post discharge survey found that the number of graduates who were gainfully employed was decreasing and several residents had lost their part-time jobs because they failed to meet minimum employment expectations. In 2014, Bonnie Brae organized a team to address this issue and it was from their recommendations that Bonnie Brae developed a unique 4-Stage “work pyramid.” A boy enters the Work Experience Program on the first day he arrives on the Bonnie Brae campus when he is assessed for his skills. In Stage 1, the boys are assigned basic tasks around the campus such as gardening, snow removal, and raking leaves. In Stage 2, boys are asked to work on a project alongside staff and are expected to come to work on time and to follow instructions. By Stage 3, adolescents are given unsupervised projects. When they reach Stage 4, they go into the community and work in a part-time paid job. Through the program, young men also receive professional certifications, which help them to secure their first jobs in the community.