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MBW: Dreams Do Come True*

MBW Flagship Building: Stephenson Family Welcome Center (Photo by Chrystie Payne)

From a distance, the long, white, unimposing metal-sided and concrete structure that can be seen from the Donoe Bypass resting in a small valley between and below the area’s solar farm and Home Depot could be almost anything; a large warehouse or even an extended airplane hangar. But for Scott Bradley, founder of the not-for-profit organization My Brother’s Workshop, it is a dream come true.

“This is what you dream about when you’re sitting on the corner,” Bradley said Wednesday as he provided a personal tour of the two-level, 20,000-square-foot newly completed flagship building.

That corner where Bradley might’ve been dreaming more than 16 years ago was on Garden Street in St. Thomas’ downtown Charlotte Amalie, where his dream to change the lives of marginalized Virgin Islands youth began.

Bradley had come to St. Thomas from Maine ostensibly to “retire” after a long career as an industrial engineer. He hadn’t been here long when he noticed young people hanging out on street corners, obviously selling drugs.

The way he told the story to me years ago went something like this: “I asked them, how much are you going to make today, $30 $40 bucks? I can show you how to make that amount in an hour.”

Thus began the first iteration of what has become one of the Virgin Islands’ most recognized and successful combination of social justice and workforce development programs.

MBW had its humble beginnings in a partnership begun in 2007 with the St. Thomas Reformed Church, which acted as a fiduciary for the fledgling nonprofit and where classes, mostly in carpentry, were held in one of the buildings owned by the church on another corner — Krystal Gade and Nye Gade — just a block from where many of the first students had been on a dead-end street with little hope for a better life.

Bradley, however, believes life’s path is full of restarts, twists and turns and holds limitless opportunities for those willing to show up. And so he – with the help of many like-minded community members – began to forge a new road for hundreds of young people in the V.I.

By 2012, the organization had secured a new, larger, and much airier space on the side of the Plaza Extra parking lot in Tutu Park Mall where even more trainees – all of whom are paid during their tutelage – could expand their knowledge of and skill in carpentry and building.

Then came craftier items.

Some of the iconic products that have come out of the shop include picnic tables, chess boards set up on tables and even metal-lined wooden coffee cups. In 2021, MBW opened a new retail location at Paradise Point selling souvenirs to tourists, thanks to those earlier creative concepts such as hand-crafted utensils, drink tumblers, hats, sun shirts, T-shirts, tank tops, car stickers, and other souvenirs.

Meanwhile, back at Tutu Park Mall, many of the graduates who have numbered heretofore between 12 and 100 yearly have gone on to successful jobs in the building trades.

And then the dream continued.

In 2015, MBW secured a space just around the corner from the Reformed Church on Back Street for their bakery – which was influenced by the success of  Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles – the largest gang intervention and re-entry program in the world.

A $50,000 anonymous donation began phase two of MBW’s training for residents ages 16 to 24. The café and bakery expanded opportunities in cooking, baking, and hospitality. Phase one MBW students and graduates were responsible for much of the buildout for the original bakery and training hub. At the new campus, a cafe will be located on the main floor to bring baked goods, breakfast, and lunch items to the Tutu area with ample parking. Products for grocery stores and restaurants will be available for purchase out of the industrial kitchen.

Cafe, bakery and take-out area (Source photo by Shaun A Pennington)

The café will be housed on the upper level of the new complex, which also includes a 4,500-square-foot banquet hall that can double as a meeting space for up to 400 people. Its bakery and take-out section are linked to the production operation in the lower level by a dumbwaiter.

4500 Square foot banquet and meeting hall (Source photo by Shaun A Pennington)

Given planned parking that can hold an as-yet-to-be-determined but substantial number of vehicles, coupled with the nearby Home Depot parking lot, one of the island’s main obstacles to large gatherings is already solved, according to MBW’s communications director, Chrystie Payne. And as is usual with dreams, the visions often overlap.

Bradley and Payne see a way to couple carrying guests from Home Depot to the meeting venue as a way to also offer training to their students in commercial driving, a huge chunk of the tourist economy in the Virgin Islands.

Chrystie Payne and Scott Bradley exhaling after seeing phase one of latest dream nearing completion. (Source photo by Shaun A Pennington)

But there’s a bigger story to be told about the industrial-sized production facility.

In the fall of 2017, after the island was struck by two back-to-back Category 5 hurricanes, MBW provided 37,000 meals to Virgin Islanders out of the Back Street bakery and kitchen.

“Imagine what we could do in this huge space,” Bradley said, adding, “And it’s a bunker.”

Lower-level food preparation and production area (Source photo by Shaun A Pennington)

While the top level appears sturdy and well built to withstand nature’s fury, there is no question that the lower level, where all of the coolers and freezers, food, equipment, stoves, ovens, and industrial equipment are housed, appears virtually indestructible.

Soon-to-be food freezer and cooler areas store food prep equipment. (Source photo by Shaun A Pennington)

Along with training, production, and storage space, the facility also includes small enclaves carved out to provide quiet space for counseling services as well as offices.

Amazingly enough, the dream also envisions six smaller and separate structures that will house training in MBW’s trademark areas: construction, carpentry, masonry, plumbing, electrical, CNC lasers CAD/CAM programming, marine skills, and heavy equipment handling, while adding two new areas of career development: automotive and appliance and electronic repair.

And finally, a 5,000-square-foot building will house a sports and art complex.

Bradley is emphatic that none of this has been accomplished without a massive commitment by dozens of businesses, non-profits and community members. And, he is clear: the $5 million pledged by the Virgin Islands government, made possible by American Rescue Plan Act funds, was crucial to getting this far.

“It has been a labor of love by the entire community,” he said.

Mark White, the construction manager for the facility, said the 20,000-square-foot structure will be ready for occupancy by the second quarter of 2024.

Neither Bradley nor Payne are indulging in fantasies about how long it will take to reach the goal of graduating 1,000 trainees per year.

“It is going to take time.” But back in the day, MBW, which receives references from 40 organizations ranging from the Departments of Human Services and Education to the Probation Department, routinely had a waiting list of 100 or more applicants, which suggests it might not take that long.

From building materials to equipment, the organization has sourced most, if not all, from Virgin Islands businesses, many of whom have donated part of their time and even materials to the cause of creating better lives for all Virgin Islanders regardless of economic, educational, or familial status.

In keeping with the spirit of service that permeates that community as well as the gratitude that is a natural byproduct of My Brother’s Workshop, the following is a partial list of those who donated, beginning with the sponsors who gave $25,000 or more, followed by contributors, which includes anyone who gave anything less than $25,000 towards the campus.

Campus Sponsors:

The Office of Governor Albert Bryan Jr., The Stephenson Family, Anonymous Angel Donor, Heavy Materials, Prior Family Foundation, Ty and Bonnie Troutman, Robert and Maureen Sievers Family Charitable Gift Fund, Kimmelman Family Foundation, DCM Corporation, Paul Ferreras, PE Inc., Anne and Andy Hemmert, Bruce Marshall Scholarship Fund at CFVI & Marshall Construction, Inc., Emily Burton Architecture, Lana Vento Charitable Trust, Columba Capital, Fred & Sharon Hupprich, Feuerzeig Family Fund, World Central Kitchen, Helios Energy, Secret Harbor Beach Resort St. Thomas, USVI, Hulsman Family Fund at CFVI, MSI Building Supplies

Campus Contributors:

Keswick Insurance, Brian Moseley & Associates, Inc., Celebrity Financial Inc., Electric Factory, Lockhart Companies Inc., The Ritz Carlton, St. Thomas, Auven Therapeutics, FirstBank VI, Paradise Jam Fund at CFVI, Tramway Properties, Inc., Jim Swietlik, Specialized Investment Group, BMR Donoe Solar LLC, Figure One Designs, Merchants Commercial Bank, Island Designs Landscape & Storm Water Solutions LLC, Progressive Heavy Equipment, Dudley Newman Feuerzeig LLP, Charity Girls, Jeff and Kelly Neevel, The Graci Family, Joyce Doumeng, I Levin Properties, Jeff and Sandy Smith, Steve and Karen Jamron, Stryker Real Estate, Judith Martino, Pete and Suzanne Mabe, Picayo Family, Red Hook Agencies Inc, Sharon Schoonover, The Cattie Law Firm P.C., Mark Braddell, Attorney George Marshall Miller, Phyllis Klemuk, XO Energy, Christina Luton, Dan Lynch, Fellowship Reformed Church, Fordham University Global Outreach, ThereforeGo Ministries, CSG Government Solutions, and St. John Wellness Weekend and other anonymous donors.

White, who fits neatly into the contributor category, summed up his personal vision for the 3.8-acre campus: “Hopefully it will serve the community for a very long time.”

*Scott Bradley 12-28, 2023… “You just have to hold your breath long enough.”

 

 

 

 

 

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