Giving young students a chance to shine

  • Clevie Simmons (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
  • Clevie Simmons (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
  • Principal customs officers Melody Lightbourne and Sharmette Pond (Photograph by Lisa Simpson)
  • From left: Johnathan Jervis, Experiential Therapist; Ashley Simons Crane, Clinical Assistant; Monika Pitt, Educational Therapist; Vakita Basden, Social Worker; Moffat Makomo, Occupational Therapist; Jascinth Albouy-Onyia, Clinical Director Child & Adolescent Services (Photograph supplied)

A summer life skills programme for young people with mental health problems aims to raise awareness and create positive change.

A total of eight students took part in the second instalment of the teen life skills programme, which was designed to teach them soft job skills and connect them with the community through work placements.

Principal customs officer Melody Lightbourne took on a 14-year-old student and set out to strengthen the skill set she already had.

They worked on timekeeping, doing the task at hand and being accountable for her work.

Ms Lightbourne said: “I kept it real basic and simple like that.

“There was no treating her as ‘you are a student in school’. You were treated as a member of the team and you were accountable for your time.”

She said the student did well and added that it was a “great experience all around”.

Ms Lightbourne started her student off with basic filing and data tasks before progressing to more difficult work.

When she struggled with one task, Ms Lightbourne let her “get stronger in the task she felt comfortable with”.

She added: “In those final two weeks she was doing the one that wasn’t the best for her in the beginning and the other one with strength.”

Ms Lightbourne added that they were proud when she was named as the most improved student during the graduation ceremony, which completed the four-week programme that ran from August 7 to September 1.

“I think we could see that within her. I feel that it was a good experience for the student and I saw the change in the confidence.”

They have now offered her a community service opportunity and are waiting on approval.

Principal customs officer Sharmette Pond said the experience had exposed the department to students they do not normally reach.

Ms Pond said: “I could not tell the difference between this student and a summer student. She brought a level of maturity at the age of 14 that I have not seen in other typical 14-year-olds.”

Ms Lightbourne added that her mental health problems were treated very confidentially.

“The main thing was this is a student, an adolescent, it’s our opportunity to share, but we have to share with her positively and maturely so we are not doing anything that is detrimental to her.”

It was the first year the Department of Customs participated and Ms Lightbourne and Ms Pond said they would “definitely” do it again.

Mental health social worker Vakita Basden, with Bermuda Hospitals Board’s Child and Adolescent Services, said the programme was created last year to fill a service gap for clients between 14 and 18.

Ms Basden said: “It’s really about closing that gap in services, connecting them to the community, as well as destigmatising mental health.

“We service a lot of different mental health clients so we wanted to give them an opportunity to be able to maintain in the workplace and in society and not just relate to having a mental illness.”

She said occupational therapist Moffat Makomo wanted to help the youth develop soft job skills after he overheard a conversation about “how black youth in particular are lazy and don’t have any work ethic”.

Eight students took part this year and job placements were arranged around their interests and through a careers assessment with Workforce Development.

They also did morning workshops covering topics such as trust, communication, interpersonal skills and goal-planning.

Marketability was a concept Clevie Simmons, owner of Auto Star, wanted to impress on his 15-year-old student, along with timekeeping and communication.

Mr Simmons said: “I found that initially when he was coming here, he would stand up and wait and do nothing.

“I wanted to emphasise to him that as long as he is a selling person, people will want him.”

Mr Simmons, who took part in the programme for a second year, said the placement was an “excellent” experience and the student enjoyed it.

“I didn’t treat him as a young person. I needed a worker. And I got him to do everything that we would do.”

They did tinting and detailing and worked with tyre and wheel accessories.

Mr Simmons said he “couldn’t care less” if the young boy had any type of disability.

“As of today, I still don’t know whatever shortcomings he had. He’s actually now working here after school. It sets a benchmark for him that he can now know in his own mind that when I work, I get paid and I think it’s good for him.

“And I will keep pushing him until I am happy and I am never happy. But he’ll be OK.”

Mr Simmons, who spent 19 years in the Regiment, said he didn’t give his student “any slack”.

“It wasn’t an easy four weeks but by the time he got to week three, he knew me. He knew if he was late he would automatically do some extra time.”

Mr Simmons said he saw his progress over the four weeks although he still has some way to go before he can work alone.

But he added: “He’s got so much potential and he’s a good kid. If he has the right guidance, he will make it. He has the drive and he has the want-to.”

Mr Simmons said he enjoys seeing what the programme does for the children and that he was able to teach someone to work and develop their work ethic. He said it is also important for young black men to see successful black businessmen so they can have a role model.

“He’s seeing whatever he sees in me — he’s seeing something he likes and he’s now got a template of something good.”