Of the consequences from the economic wildfire that has raged across Bermuda since 2008, non-profit programmes and local charities are among those that have been burned the worst. Limited public and private funding has petrified outreach work at a time when it is perhaps needed the most, leaving the most vulnerable people of Bermuda flapping proverbially in the breeze.
But out of the economic ashes new charities are beginning to germinate, most recently in the form of a community outreach programme for women. Begun in 2013 by Deborah-Anne Blakeney, then head of the Department of Human Affairs, the Community Driven Development Programme was started to help a growing number of underemployed and unemployed women back into the workforce. This April, just two years later, the programme blossomed into a privately funded and operated charity: CDD Bermuda.
Working alongside the charity’s executive director, Blakeney, chairman Juan Prado says the transition from public to private funding, while far from easy, has been helped enormously by the public’s support of CDD Bermuda’s mission to get disenfranchised women back on their feet, and the pragmatic way they are achieving that goal.
“We’re getting terrific fund-raising support, which of course is critical,” says Prado. “People can relate to the pain that we’re alleviating. These are the most disadvantaged women in our society.”
What resonates the most, he says, is that those women deserve a second chance. “They don’t have to stay that way forever. If they choose to reinvest in themselves, as we’ve proven, they can be phenomenal contributors to society.
”The bottom line is that it’s working. We recruit a group of women at the same time because we think it’s important that we bring them in as a cohort, as a support system, so that they can hear each other and talk about their experiences, bad and good. From the first 15 ladies that we recruited, ten of them are currently in full-time jobs. The other five are currently enrolled at Bermuda College studying for technical degrees or in a work-shadowing position.
“These were the least employable women in our society in a very, very difficult economic environment in Bermuda. No one is sitting-off at home. They’re all doing stuff to better their lives, and that speaks to the success of the programme.”
By partnering with other charities and government departments, Prado says, CDD provides a “holistic solution” tailored to each individual woman in the programme, in order to help them achieve their career ambitions. “When we talk about what we do and what it takes to transform the lives of these individuals, they go, ‘Wow, I can see how this would work.’ That’s huge, because if people can’t relate to what you’re doing you kind of fall by the wayside,” says Prado. But a charity’s goal is only as good as its success, which is where CDD is setting itself apart.
On top of the fundraising the charity has received, says Prado, there is a group of volunteers eager to help CDD achieve its goal. Staffed with only three full-time and one part-time employee, Prado has been blown away by CDD’s group of “absolutely phenomenal” volunteers.
“We’ve got several committees that we’ve formed that are made up of volunteers, without which we absolutely wouldn’t be able to do what we do. We literally have three and a half people. Three full-time and one part-time right now. But with all the volunteers we have by extension probably about 15 or 16 people. And when I talk about volunteers, I’m not talking about people who occasionally drop in and make a phone call, I’m talking about people who literally will put in about 10–15 hours a week minimum in whatever it is we ask them to help us do.”
The Bermudian: How has the transition been from a government-funded charity to a privately funded charity?
Juan Prado: It’s going terrific, is the short answer, on a number of fronts. To make a new charity successful you need a bunch of things to happen at the same time, kind of like a three-legged stool. If all the legs don’t work it falls apart.
First and foremost, we’re getting an extraordinary reception from the community. Every time we talk about the charity and the mission and goal of what we’re trying to achieve, it resonates with the people whom we’re having that discussion with like no other, and they immediately want to find a way to help us, whether it’s financially or by providing some form of support for the charity. And that’s huge, because if people can’t relate to what you’re doing, there’s so many other opportunities they’re presented with day in and day out for how they spend their money and time, you kind of fall by the wayside.
The second thing is, we’re getting terrific fund-raising support. We’ve been able to get the corporate donors, both the exempt companies and local businesses, to really want to partake in helping defray some of the cost of operating the charity. We’ve run two very successful events, most recently our raffle programme. That got a fantastic reception, and being the first one for us as a team, was really extraordinary. So we’re off to a great start in fund-raising, which of course is critical.
Then there’s volunteerism. The volunteers that we’re getting are just absolutely phenomenal. We’ve got, for example, several committees that we’ve formed that are made up of volunteers, without which we absolutely wouldn’t be able to do what we do, because we can’t afford to hire people. We literally have three and a half people. Three full time and one part time right now. But we have by extension with all the volunteers probably about 15 or 16 people. And when I talk about volunteers, I’m not talking about people who occasionally drop in and make a phone call, I’m talking about people who literally will put in about 10–15 hours a week minimum in whatever it is we ask them to help us do.
TB: What do you think it is that’s resonating with the public so much?
JP: I think it’s a couple of things. One is that people can relate to the pain that we’re solving for. We have a number of people in our community who at some early stage in their lives when they were in their mid-teens made a decision, either that was forced on them or on their own, that had some downstream consequences that they weren’t aware of that they’re now paying the price for. And these are the most disadvantaged people in our society. They wouldn’t have graduated from high school; they’re on financial assistance; they hardly ever had a job, if any; they have children in marriages that haven’t worked out… and so others resonate with the fact that these people deserve a second chance. They don’t have to stay that way forever. If they choose to reinvest in themselves, as we’ve proven, they can be phenomenal contributors to society.
I think a second reason is because, when we talk about what we do and what it takes to transform the lives of these individuals, they go, ‘Wow, I can see how this would work.’ What you find in a lot of charities, and I’m not saying this in any way to belittle other charities, they tend to be very focussed on one specific thing. What we do is actually partner with charities and government departments to provide a holistic solution on a very tailored basis. So every one of the disenfranchised women that we have recruited so far into our programme has a very tailored approach to how they get the services and programming that we offer in order for them to realise their dreams, their work dreams.