Disenfranchised young men in our community have for decades fallen between the cracks in Bermuda’s helping services, without a specialist orgaisation to help them get back on a positive track. That has finally changed, thanks to a young charity called Transitional Community Services (TCS).
TCS provides individualised support for young adult males, aged 18 to 34, through advocacy, care management, counselling and skill-building to enhance employability. A small team led by executive director Dr. Tiffanne Thomas, is already transforming young men’s lives for the better.
Thomas, having worked in human services for more than 20 years in Bermuda and overseas, had long recognised the need for the service TCS provides. During many years on the board of the Inter Agency Committee for Children, Families and the Community, whose focus is on building social-sector capacity, the gap in meeting the needs of young men was a recurring topic.
Local data show many young men, particularly black males, tend to achieve limited academic success, which contributes to limited economic opportunities. Some of these men face increased risk in their lives, which manifests itself in social problems.
When she decided to establish TCS, the pandemic had Bermuda in its grip. In terms of community need, it was timely — if not the ideal moment to seek donor funds for a new charity. “When economies are struggling, vulnerable populations become even more vulnerable, and their risks become even more heightened,” Thomas said. “From that perspective, it was the right time for the needs of our demographic.”
Thomas engaged Catalyst Consulting, led by Martha Dismont, to help her set up the right structure and staff training to meet the target demographic’s needs. TCS launched the Community Bridge Builders programme as a pilot in February 2021.
During her career, Thomas had seen young men used to being treated as cases. “I made it clear that everything that we do at TCS has to have a degree of intentionality,” Thomas said. “I wanted them to feel like humans, like their voice mattered, to refer to them as members, rather than clients. And so, they became a part of not only joining us on this journey to change their life, but also instrumental in helping us to understand the support they need.”
Their stories are tragic, heartrending and sometimes horrific. Some lost parents at a young age, suffered abuse, or their parents were absent, because of incarceration or abandonment. Some were kicked out of their homes as children and attended school while homeless. Traumatic experiences feature strongly, including fires, or losing loved ones to gun violence or road accidents.
“They have lived extremely difficult lives,” Thomas said. “While they are over 18 and therefore men, many are developmentally not men. Many have suffered significant trauma and, as a result, have deficiencies in how they present socially and how they process information cognitively. As a result, some struggle with substance abuse and addiction. They have barriers that prevent them from being able to be their best selves.”
TCS creates a space where members feel safe, supported and connected to a community – elements that have largely been absent from their lives. An area at TCS’s King Street, Hamilton base known as the “Third Space” — a phrase coined from Starbucks founder Howard Schultz — is designed to be a “home away from hardship”, a place they can call their own, where members can socialize, snack and relax.
Many corporate sponsors see the community value in TCS’s work. HSBC Bermuda is a major backer and Thomas has been heartened by the bank’s support. “The financial support is a huge help, but there are also plans for HSBC to help our guys with financial literacy and mentorship opportunities. They are truly invested in seeing our young men be successful.”
Shannon Burgess, Chief Risk Officer, HSBC Bermuda, said: “HSBC is proud to support the TCS and be a part of the Community Bridge Builders programme. This initiative offers young Bermudian men the opportunity to network, build confidence, enhance their employability and respective skillsets by participating in real-world job experiences. We would like to thank all the collaborative and small business partners who have also joined the charity’s efforts to empower the young men of our community.”
TCS’s two leadership coaches work with the members. One is Gavin Smith, well known for his cultural and community activities, “extremely dedicated, creative and a lifelong learner”, Thomas said. Fellow leadership coach Cheyra Bell, whose experience includes having played professional football, joined TCS last October.
“Cheyra has been a breath of fresh air and connects with our members, particularly over sports, in a way we didn’t anticipate,” Thomas said. Also, on the TCS team are programme resource manager Aruna Dismont and operations administrator Vinu Clay.
Members are referred by family, friends or themselves. The programme uses a self-sufficiency index to evaluate and monitor members’ changing risk levels over time in areas such as housing stability, food security and employment.
The top reason why members approach TCS is to enhance their employability. The programme incorporates Skills Development Opportunities, partnerships with businesses that enable members to build up their experience and skills. For several, it has led to full-time employment and has additionally boosted confidence and stability.
At the time of writing, there were 22 members actively enrolled in the programme with two new referrals pending and three members set to transition out, because they’ve reached their quality-of-life goals.
Steve Hales, chairman of TCS and CEO of Resolution Re, said: “TCS makes a difference to every member — which makes a difference to every member’s community. Importantly, what Tiffanne and the team has put into place is tailored to individual member’s needs, and is at the same time scalable and sustainable. I am very proud to be part of such a great organisation.”