March 09, 2021
A non-profit, educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills played a strong role in the development and socialization of at-risk students of the Simpson Penn/Williemae Pratt Co-Educational Unit.
Shacoy Mullings, President of Toastmasters Club 1600 called the students involvement in this Youth Leadership Program “just the tip of the iceberg” as he encouraged young people who find themselves in conflict with the law, their parents and/or guardians to seek out more programs to motivate and influence them to make a change for the better.
The president himself was once a troubled youth before turning his life around. He went on to launch multiple businesses and a free summer camp program.
“I remember being a young boy, I had an anger problem as well...I did not know how to communicate. I did not know how to express my feelings as an individual. Today, persons would say I am one of the calmest persons they have ever met. It’s not that I don’t get angry, it’s the fact that I have learnt to channel that energy into something else and you can do the same with persistence, hard work, and dedication,” he shared with the graduating cohort on Friday, March 5.
“Society puts labels on us as individuals. Don’t allow them to define you. The only person who has control over what you are or who you are going to be in this life is you. The only difference between me and anyone of you here, is I wasn’t afraid to seek out help when needed.”
Participants met for an hour, twice a week over the course of a month. The program simulated a Toastmasters Club.
“Leadership was cultivated through electing officers who would be responsible for managing meetings, preparing programs and ensuring a smooth flow. Their speaking skills were developed by having to give speeches each week, in which they were given immediate feedback by their peers and myself,” said Devaughn Taylor, the VP of education for Club 1600.
“They also participated in table topics, which gave them the opportunity to develop their impromptu speaking skills and be able to think on their feet.”
Mastering the ability to communicate effectively and listen intently in a non-competitive environment where a student’s progress is measured in terms of self-improvement rather than grades is crucial to the future success of the youths, according to Keith Simms, senior master at the Simpson Penn Centre for Boys.
“They need to learn how to effectively express how they feel. Toastmasters allowed the kids to work on their communications skills which helps them to make better decisions,” he said.
Even some habitually, unenthusiastic learners were motivated to improve and exert a greater effort.
“When I watch them in Toastmasters, I see them excited about being the presidents and vice presidents. Nobody has given them an opportunity to be anything,” said Chad James, Penn’s superintendent.
“Toastmasters gave them a dream and hopefully they will take that with them when they leave this place.”
The program was also successful at boosting students’ self-esteem, Sagina Pratt, assistant superintendent at the Willie Mae Pratt Centre for Girls noted.
“Many of them, unfortunately, might not have much of it. Their self-esteem issues are definitely being addressed,” she said. “You want them to be able to step up and impress people and show them at the end of the day, just because I may appear to be as a person that is ‘from nothing’ I can show you that I am somebody. I think the Toastmasters programme is an excellent programme for youth.”
It takes time, resources and inclination to make a positive impact on the lives of the centres’ residents.
“They need you. They need me. More importantly they need everyone to make a positive impact on their lives,” said Monique Greenslade, Pratt’s superintendent and a correctional officer by profession.
“I believe in reform and rehabilitation in re-entering society. More importantly I believe in change. I believe that we ought to encourage, motivate and inspire. That is our job,” she said. “I believe in them. I just need for everybody, including corporate Bahamas to believe. Together we are changing lives behind these walls.”
The most outstanding participant was awarded with the Anthony Longley, Youth Leadership Program Award. The recipient – who as a ward of state cannot be identified – displayed stellar leadership and communication skills.