Former St. Thomas nursery now nourishes careers
Published: October 10, 2012
Font size: [A] [A] [A]
ST. THOMAS - My Brother's Workshop is working on a new project - a space for themselves.
The organization, created in 2006 to teach work and life skills to young men ages 18 to 26, is moving into the former Plant Depot location by Plaza Extra in the Tutu Park Mall parking lot.
The non-profit organization was started by program director Scott Bradley as an outreach program of the St. Thomas Reformed Church.
Executive Director Christina Luton said Bradley was doing some work on the church when he noticed the young men in the neighborhood watching him.
"He said, 'Just come work with me. Help me, and I'll teach you something,'" Luton said.
The church recognized the need to give young at-risk men job skills, and the program began to grow, she said.
Since then, My Brother's Workshop has applied for federal 501(c)3 nonprofit status and has received local government grants and donations. They also have a fundraising committee.
Luton said the organization is run by a board and soon will hire staff. Luton and Bradley both volunteer full time for My Brother's Workshop.
"We're really making an effort to prove to the community that we want to stay here," Luton said.
For the last five years, the organization has been based out of a small space at the church.
During that time, more than 100 men have "graduated" from My Brother's Workshop's six-month training, counseling and mentoring program. Some of the participants have been referred to the organization by the courts or various government agencies. Many who come to My Brother's Workshop are from poor homes, are high school drop outs, have become gang members or have had trouble with the law, Luton said.
Luton said My Brother's Workshop has volunteer trainers who teach different trades, ranging from electrical work to basic construction. They also do a lot of general maintenance work, she said.
The organization has gotten national vocational accreditation from NCCER, which was founded in 1996 as the National Center for Construction Education and Research, according to Luton.
"So, we can actually give them certificates for learning skills," she said.
Different people take longer to go through the program, but My Brother's Workshop does not graduate anyone until they are ready - even if that takes longer than the six months, Luton said.
"We graduate them when they feel like they have made changes and are ready to be a part of the community," Luton said. "It sometimes just takes a little bit of love, and a whole different man comes out."
The public can hire the group to do work. Luton said they try to keep their rates competitive, but she acknowledged that the work may take a little bit longer because the men are learning as they go.
Every new job presents new opportunities to learn new skills, she said. One of the most recent projects was removing an old deck at a private home and building a new one in its place.
Local contractors have been very supportive of the program, Luton said. They have volunteered time to teach new skills to the men and become mentors and have hired those who graduated from the program.
The new location is being built out by the program's participants when they are not on another job. Luton said the group hopes to have a ribbon-cutting ceremony in December to officially open the new facility.
The new space will have a woodworking workshop, space for performing repairs and maintenance work, a classroom and offices.
"We just are excited to share it with everybody," Luton said. "They are working really hard, they've been happy to have this new space. Even for them to see a little more consistency is a huge benefit for their hearts, for the heads, and we're just looking forward to being able to grow from here."
The Lana Vento Charitable Trust has provided the funding for the improvements to the new building, and the St. Thomas Rotary has donated funds to purchase equipment needed for training.
For more information, contact My Brother's Workshop at email@example.com or call 779-4532.
- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.