A delegation of people traveled a long way to see how a regional workforce development program is operating.
The first stop on a tour of the U.S. for a delegation of six representatives from Singapore’s Ministry of Social and Family Development was the Berkshire Farm Center and Services for Youth in Canaan. The Ministry officials spent a majority of the day meeting the center's family specialists, educators, and executives to get an overview of its initiatives in helping at-risk youths enjoy healthy and successful lives. Jaye Holly is the center’s Director of Staff Development. She says Berkshire Farm Center serves 1,500 people at any one time making it the largest child welfare organization in New York State. She says the ability to create common standards across such a wide geographic area is what brought the delegation to Canaan.
“We have offices in New York City, in Plattsburgh, in Buffalo, so we are really spread out across New York State," Holly said. "Creating a unified culture across all of those locations is a challenge and that was one of the things that drew the Singapore delegation to come meet with us was to learn how to do that.”
The non-profit organization provides community, home, and school-based programs including foster care, group homes, and prevention and detention programs. It’s Residential Treatment Center in Canaan provides specialized services to adolescent boys and their families, including an accredited curriculum at the onsite Berkshire Junior/Senior High School. The delegation got in touch with Berkshire Farm Center because of a theory called The Sanctuary Model with the hopes of implementing it in their country. Bruce Potter is the Superintendent of Berkshire Union Free School District which provides education to the center’s residents. He explains the model’s commitment to safety, communication, and change.
“It’s how we work and interact together with the adults and with the children in care all the time," Potter said. "It’s a culture that gets cultivated over time and is embedded in how we work and interact and care for. I would call it more of a cultural philosophy.”
One of the day’s main focuses was the Berkshire Workforce Development Program meant to prepare at-risk youths for success at college and in the workplace. Potter says the center has created four sustainable businesses on campus including producing organic vegetables and sap for maple syrup, along with a custodial company, and a pizzeria. He says these initiatives and a future program of matching participating youth with potential employers in their home communities is a key focus of the delegation. He says young men and women today are not entering the workforce with the skills employers are looking for.
“They’re at-risk," he said. "They’re at risk of being successful in school. They’ve had nothing but failed school experiences. So to change the dropout rate, we have to apply specific interventions. What are the adult actions and programs we are going to implement and monitor to see that we are making a difference? What are the post-discharge outcomes? Well one of them is employment.”
Holly says her non-profit organization and the delegation were able to connect over common beliefs.
“Trauma is universal, when we talk about serving youth and families, that’s a universal need," Holly said. "So the more that we can share with one another across organizational lines, across state lines, across international lines the more we can really learn from one another. I think caring is the universal language.”
The delegation will tour similar organizations in New York City before heading to the Midwest.