STEWART: Good morning. Stewart Alexander here, the Authority Marketing Guy, here in sunny Jamaica. This morning, a beautiful Sunday morning, I have the pleasure of being here with a beautiful young lady all the way from Canada. First of all, good morning to you, Susan.
SUSAN: Good morning.
STEWART: As I just alluded, that’s her name, Susan Downing. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself, introduce yourself, where you come from, a little bit about your company, and we can get started?
SUSAN: Okay. I’m a retired teacher from the Vancouver School Board in British Columbia, and for the last 30 years, I’ve been teaching at-risk youth at alternative schools in BC. The last 2 programs that I was working at, the school board gave me the opportunity … they just gave me a space and gave me the opportunity to build my own programs because I’ve been in that area for such a long time that they felt that they could trust me to do that.
The final program I established was Pinnacle program, and that was teaching grade 11 and 12. I was graduating at-risk youth, and not only was I teaching them all the core subjects, but we were establishing what it is that they would like to do next, so I would establish what they wanted to do next, I’d make sure that they had applied for it. I’d make sure that they were accepted and in almost every case they were funded for it as well.
That involved building a lot of partnerships in the community, not just with educational institutions but also with businesses in the community that would offer my students scholarships and opportunities to learn hands-on skills.
That’s always been a focus, to make sure that you have hands-on skills when you graduate from school in order to be able to … in order to be able to set yourself apart from other graduates.
STEWART: Why do you think that’s so important then, that students have these hands-on skills?
SUSAN: I just think it’s important because everything that sets you apart from someone else is a vastly competitive world is going to give you an advantage and because it was a very small group of students that I worked with, I was able to … there were 20 at the time, so I was able to work with them very, very closely to figure out what it is that they wanted to do and to get them there.
Those hands-on skills really were allowing them to get work once they left school which isn’t always an easy thing to do, and even if they didn’t want to do whatever the hands-on skills, whatever the work was that they had decided they were going to do next, at least they would have a job to be able to fund whatever else they did decide to pursue.
STEWART: So if I understand correctly, it’s very much about empowering these young people?
SUSAN: Very much so. I’m really all about being outside of the box. I wanted to have them realize that it’s possible to do what you love and make money with it without having to wait for someone else to give you a job. The more skills that you have, the more easy it is for you to make money on your own.
STEWART: Right, so in terms of these … the hands-on skills that you’re bringing to the table and helping these young people with, how does that link with the actual fact that you’re here in Jamaica, here in Portmore, here in Waterford, how does … what’s the connection? How do we connect the dots?
SUSAN: Well, my own background, I started out … I started out being a dental assistant and then working with the emotionally disturbed kids, and then I went into electrical. I became an electrician, and then I got my degree in industrial education, so I taught all technical subjects, like woodwork, drafting, mechanics, electronics, design materials technology, and I had that background when I started working with at-risk youth.
Initially when I worked with a junior group of them, I did teach them their technical subjects, but then when I started working with the senior ones that needed their core subjects in order to graduate, I eased off on the technical part.
But another thing that I was teaching was, I was teaching crafts. One thing I did was started an entrepreneurial sewing program with donated blue jeans where the students would make blue jean items like aprons and pillows and bolsters and bedspreads out of blue jean material. It was very inexpensive for the school to do that because they just had the sewing notions and the blue jeans were donated, and then they would take these … they would take these items and sell them at craft fairs.
But I also have innumerable marketable craft ideas, and that’s where it would start at Waterford Primary because I would be teaching students that possibly would not proceed to high school, I would be teaching them hands-on skills and projects that would allow them to make their own money, and I had hoped to have it turn over three times and have them be able to continue along and do that by themselves.
Because I only have 2 months … I have May and June, I have just decided to start off with the project-oriented material and next school year I was hoping to do not only craft projects, but I was also thinking of teaching them how to wire plugs and switches and how to do woodworking projects and make sure things are level and square and that sort of stuff.
STEWART: All right, so let’s just summarize a little bit where we’ve come from and where we are right now, so you come from Canada. You’ve got a vast amount of experience, and you’re here in Jamaica now, okay, you’re here in Portmore, in Waterford. It’s not your Ivy League kind of school, all right?
STEWART: Tell a little bit about the kind of things that you’re going to be working with. What motivates you to work with these kind of children?
SUSAN: Well, I’ve worked with at-risk youth for a really long time, but I thought that it would be good to go somewhere in the world where you’re standing between that person. You could possibly make the difference between that person in abject poverty waiting around for someone to give them a job and give them the mentality that they could do what they love and be able to make money while doing it, so they don’t have to rely on others to get them a job.
It’s not that it’s a different kind of youth that I’m working with, but it’s a different area and there’s no safety net like there is in Canada. There’s no welfare that they could fall back on if they don’t make it. It is standing between the person in abject poverty or waiting around or possibly going the wrong way in order to make money.
What brought me to this particular area was a connection with me and the vice principal of Waterford Primary, and when she heard the type of thing I was interested in doing, she introduced me to the staff at the school and basically all of a sudden I had a space and I had 14 possible students to work with, and from running an idea by them, it all of a sudden became when can you start, I could start May and June.
STEWART: Awesome, awesome. For anybody out there listening or reading with you, how could they possibly help? They’re listening and they think, oh, this sounds interesting. How could they … what kind of help, what kind of support are you looking for?
SUSAN: Well, what I’m looking for initially for May and June is material, and there’s a number of projects that we will be working on in terms of crafts that I’m going to require and also I need to be able to ship them here and get them here by May so that I’ll be able to come here and make sure that we have all the materials and all the supplies.
STEWART: Could you just explain a little bit, when you say materials, what kind of materials?
SUSAN: For example, t-shirts. One of the projects would be that a person would come up with their own design or photograph, and they would manipulate it on the computer, and then they would print it off onto paper that would allow them to transfer it onto t-shirts, so I would require, for example, the transfer paper, perhaps a couple of printers and a couple of computers in order to manipulate the designs to do that.
Another thing that I’m doing is I’m going to do dreamcatchers which is a North American theme that aboriginal people have but I know how to make those, and I wanted to adapt them into a Caribbean theme so those are very simple, but they require particular threads and they also require feathers that are going to be local but they require some metal rings, circular rings. Other parts are simple.
There are flour and water projects. They’re projects that require citric acid and baking soda and essential oils. Anyone that could contribute to those projects, it would be really helpful because I’m just looking really for the materials in order to start the program.
STEWART: Excellent. In terms of the actual kids themselves, when you have a quiet moment and you actually think about the actual outcome of what you’re trying to achieve, what do you actually see? What’s the end goal for yourself? What’s your dream?
SUSAN: Well, initially the kids themselves are the ones that they identify, initially the 14, were students that they are pretty sure are not going to make it, not going to pass the exams to make it into high school and perhaps other challenges involved that they really don’t feel that they would succeed if they even into a private high school.
Instead of those students falling through the cracks and having nothing left, no avenues to pursue at the age of 13 years old, I’m looking to give them the skills necessary to help them make their own business and to get some support in terms of how to market whatever it is that they make and how to ensure that those … that the monies that they generate are going right back to the student involved.
STEWART: Excellent, excellent. Your work with the teachers, how is that going to look briefly?
SUSAN: The teachers that are there?
STEWART: Yes, yes.
SUSAN: The teachers that are there have been discussing it in December, and have come up with a similar idea, and last year, last summer they put together an enrichment program for these type of students that was actually going to be returning.
They found that that enrichment, they had many, many, many volunteers from the community that worked with those students and when the students went back to school, they really had improved greatly because it does help whenever you have a smaller group and you get an intense amount of attention that you give to those kids and nurturing to those kids so they have given me the space and they have given me the students, and they are really, really enthusiastic about the project.
Basically they’ve told me whatever I need they’ll make sure that it’s in place, but they’re going to be busy with their own classes at the same time that I’m running mine, so my understanding is that they will just bring their students to me when it’s the time for me to be teaching.
STEWART: Right. Right. You’re … I mean, you’re only here for a certain amount of time, right, that limited amount of time?
SUSAN: I’m going to be … yeah. I’m going to be delivering this program from May to June, and we’re going to see how it works because it’s just an initial program and perhaps, you know, there will be glitches to work out.
What I’m trying to do is take this program that’s going to be just May and June and make sure it’s successful, figure out what needs to be done, perhaps what needs to be adjusted, perhaps add some different projects to it so that the following year I can do a dual program that would be not only crafts but would also be technical skills.
STEWART: Awesome, awesome. Well, I think we’ve covered quite a lot so far, don’t you?
SUSAN: Yes, I think so.
STEWART: We’ve covered a lot of ground. Is there anything else that you’d like to add, Susan, before we part
SUSAN: No, not really. I just have worked with this kind of student, and they’re really very dear to my heart because I find that people that are faced with a lot of challenges are very genuine in terms of their interactions with you which is something that I always appreciate.
The other thing that I find is that’s necessary in order to teach anyone is that they have the idea and they have the knowledge that you like them, so I like to build connections with the students and the communities, and I also make sure that at the time that I’m teaching, that there’s always food there because I don’t want anything in the way of my being able to teach them.
You’re not going to teach them if they don’t think they like you, you’re not going to be able to teach them if they’re hungry and those kinds of things, so I just make sure that those kinds of things are sort of an initial … initial environment for the classroom.
STEWART: Right, right, right. Well, I’m excited. I’m really excited about the project. It sounds great. For me, it’s just been a pleasure just being able to meet you at first and then just listening to all of your dreams and all these goals that you have, I think they’re very ambitious.
I think they’re … I definitely know they came from your heart. You’re a very genuine person and I really feel that, and I really think it’s a massive help here in Waterford. For anybody who is listening out there to this podcast, if there is any way that you can help, how are people going to reach, how can they reach out to you and find you? What contact details do you have?
SUSAN: My telephone number is +1778-863-8534, and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, but that is spelled all lowercase letters, candelite@ hotmail.com.
STEWART: And the number is a US number or Canadian number?
SUSAN: It’s a Canadian number.
STEWART: Great, so this has been another podcast with Stewart Alexander, the Authority Marketing Guy, a little different this time. Not another B2B project, this is more of a B2C, and really looking forward to seeing the end result. I’ll definitely be following it, and I’ll definitely be doing what I can do, some of the things we’ve already spoken about to help in terms of the marketing and to help you get the word out there.
SUSAN: Thank you.
STEWART: Is there any last … any final thoughts?
SUSAN: I don’t think so.
STEWART: Great. That was Susan Downing from the Comprehensive Consulting Venture company in Canada. Susan, it’s been fantastic.
SUSAN: Thank you.
STEWART: Thank you so much.