A former gang leader discovered that he enjoyed baking pastries and bread. Soon, he was proudly wearing a chef’s uniform and competing in culinary competitions at the state level.
Work creates purpose, value and self-esteem, which is why the Work Experience Program is becoming one of the most valuable things Bonnie Brae does for our boys. Thus far the results of the program have been impressive. Young men discover talents and interests they never knew existed simply by being exposed to new experiences.
The Work Experience Program evolved from our desire to better prepare our young men for the workforce. Prior to creating the program, results from a post discharge survey found that the numbers of graduates who were gainfully employed was decreasing and several of our residents had lost their part-time jobs when they failed to meet minimum employment expectations.
In 2014, Bonnie Brae organized a team to address this issue. They met regularly for several months to catalogue our current work practices and then made recommendations for improvement. It was from their recommendations that we developed a unique 4-Stage “work pyramid.” The Work Experience Program is put into practice from the first day that a boy 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.
Our young men also receive professional certifications, which help them to secure their first jobs in the community. For instance, the OSHA construction site safety certification and the food handler safety certification often give them an advantage over other job applicants. Since the Work Experience Program was launched in 2014, over 90 certifications have been awarded.
The Program recently received national recognition when it was featured at the Association of Children’s Residential Centers national conference. Additionally, Structured Learning Coordinator, Sharon Singleton, who oversees the Work Experience Program, was recently honored with the CareerSafe Safety Educator of the Year Award for her work in helping our young men to obtain the certifications necessary for participating in our Brae Builders program. The training enables the Bonnie Brae Students to begin to develop skills necessary to increase their ability to secure employment.