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Thursday, September 29, 2022
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My Brother's Workshop Looks to Community for Continued Success

My Brother's Workshop participants Kyle Bussue, Kelvin Xavier, Markim Tonge and Everton Audain share a laugh after the forum.While the success rate of the My Brother’s Workshop program has climbed steadily over the past three years, putting more than 50 young men on the path toward a brighter future, the only way to really keep it running is with the full support of the community, speakers said Thursday.
And that doesn’t only mean financial support. This vocational program for disadvantaged youths between the ages of 16 to 24 also needs volunteers to train its participants in a variety of skills, whether it’s as simple as writing a resume or teaching them how to do their taxes once they’ve gotten a job.
The good news is that several of the residents who came to Antilles School Thursday night for a forum spotlighting the program were prepared to help.
One accountant was so excited about getting involved that he offered to do the boys’ taxes for free, while a local contractor said he would be willing to take some of the guys on for paid jobs, and possibly hire a few after they’ve completed the program.
Several Rotary Club members even said they’d try to integrate My Brother’s Workshop into their own activities or feature the program at meetings where their members might also be able to help.
Sponsored by the St. Thomas Club of Rotary Sunrise, Thursday night’s forum was held at Antilles School’s Prior-Jolleck Hall. And unfortunately, the bad news is that more than half the room was empty — something that didn’t go unnoticed.
"Count the empty seats," Draughting Shaft owner Suzanne Robinson said to the small but eager crowd. "I challenge all of you here to bring one person to the table, to endorse the program and to talk about it to as many people as you can."
Many in attendance wiped away tears as they watched videos highlighting what the guys had accomplished over the past three years, and listened to them explain on tape what the program meant to them. And speaking later, workshop graduate Kelvin Xavier didn’t mince words when he added that he didn’t know where he’d be or what he’d be doing if he didn’t get involved or pick up the skills needed to land him a full-time job.
Xavier took it a step further by recently taking part in a mission trip to the Dominican Republic, where he learned firsthand the realities of living in poverty.
"We always say things like we don’t have anything, but there are really people out there who don’t have anything at all but a piece of dirt to sleep on," Xavier said.
My Brother’s Workshop Director Scott Bradley, a retired industrial engineer who co-founded the program through the St. Thomas Reformed Church, said that stories like Xavier’s were common among young people, not because they’re bad kids, but because they are faced with more obstacles, have less to do and are given little hope for success. Most would prefer not to be out on the streets, and once they’re integrated into the program, they work hard to turn their lives around.
According to their statistics, 83 percent of the young men involved in My Brother’s Workshop have either "dropped back into school," gotten jobs or ended up staying with the program. Since 2008, they’ve logged 6,000 volunteer hours, working on a variety of community service projects ranging from building bookcases at Jane E. Tuitt Elementary to fixing up basketball courts in their own neighborhoods.
"We taught them about being a part of their community," one of the video’s taglines said.
My Brother’s Workshop board president Tim Abraham added later that he’s seen the program instill in its participants a sense of pride and belonging.
"The truth is, there are hundreds of boys waiting to be part of the program," Abraham said. "But we don’t have enough trainers or the resources necessary to help them all — that’s why we have events like this."
Rotary Sunrise President Kathrynn Green added that the club organized the event to put the organization’s name out in as many circles as possible.
"After a year and a half of working with them, everyone in the club is aware of the difference Scott is making," Green said, adding that community members looking to give back should find a way to get involved with the program.
"My Brother’s Workshop should be the name that pops into your head instantly," she said. "It should be on the tip of your tongue."
Bradley has said that there are currently 200 young men on the waiting list for My Brother’s Workshop. Over the course of the program, three have died while waiting to get in. Xavier later pointed out another two featured in the video that were killed before they had a chance to graduate from the program.
My Brother’s Workshop is also making preparations to accept young women into the program, and is currently working on a computer lab and media center for its participants. Most of its funding — about 90 percent — comes from paid work projects, while the remainder comes from donations or grants.

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