By Karen Bradley
Last month, we shared the importance for local and rural economic development to arise from the region’s women and youth. The East Preston Empowerment Academy (EPEA) is one of the Eastern Shore’s community-based programs created to foster the development of skills and employability for young people, women, and others on the western side of the Shore. EPEA has a strong mission statement, “to empower and equip members of our community with the necessary skills, tools and confidence to fulfill their lifelong dreams.”
The Academy started out with an adult education program, but has developed new programs that help youth develop specific skills through innovative partnerships. One of those programs is “Pathways to Irving Shipbuilding,” a partnership program with the Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) funded by the Irving Corporation. Twenty young African Nova-Scotians were selected for this two-year training program. The students will be completing their two years soon, and will then become paid apprentices at the Irving Shipyard (once the shipyard reopens from the COVID-19 closure.)
Shelley Fashan oversees the program for the EPEA. “The talent is there and the potential is there,” Fashan told the Cooperator. “Although the program was not without its challenges, because we had not done such a program before, we worked out a rigorous process of encouraging applicants and supporting them through the screenings, two interviews, and throughout the two years of study. ” The program got an enthusiastic response when the word went out. “Ninety-nine applied and we wound up with twenty successful applicants,” Fashan said, “with ten more on a list in case any of the twenty could not do the program.”
The program included much more than classes at NSCC. The participants also went to outside classes in math, communications skills, and portfolio development. Another important component of the program was cultural: “The program is Afro-centric,” Shelley explained. “Elders from the community spoke with the young people, sharing their wisdom, and that was also important.”
The Empowerment Academy has other programs open to participants outside the Preston area, including a program for people who want to earn a Red Seal Certificate in a trade. The Red Seal program welcomes lifelong learners free of charge and helps participants with topics that range from exam preparation for trade exams to learning how to vote. Financial support for the programs comes from the Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education, the Black Educators Association, the Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency, the East Preston United Baptist Church, and individual donors.
Fostering entrepreneurship and supporting the dreams of community members is the basis of successful economic development. Programs like EPEA demonstrate how our communities can expand and flourish by giving people access to the education they need to realize their passions, and develop their exciting ideas.