Writer: Tosheena Robinson-Blair, BSc, MSc
The First Bahamas Branch of Toastmasters Club 1600 is deepening its connection to the Simpson Penn Center for Boys with the launch of a new Gavel Club at the juvenile detention facility.
The new initiative follows on the heels of a successful Youth Leadership Program held at the school earlier this year, where students were empowered to communicate, collaborate, think critically and lead.
“We will expand our relationship beyond the eight sessions of a Youth Leadership Program,” said Devaughn Taylor, the 57th president of the elite organization. He and his new slate of officers were inducted earlier this month during a brief ceremony at SLS Baha Mar.
“We will do this by implementing and facilitating a Gavel Club for those students so that our presence is more tangible, and the intangible benefit of positive, male role models is shared with those boys that really need it.”
Gavel Clubs are typically established when interested members are either too young or unable to attend regular meetings. They operate like established clubs with speeches, evaluators and officers. However, Gavel Clubs must have a host institution.
This new partnership will enable Simpson Penn’s residents to make use of the communication, public speaking and leadership skills they developed earlier this year. With newfound confidence, it is hoped they will develop a positive outlook on life and learn respect for themselves and others.
Mr Taylor, who previously served as the club’s Education Vice President, is convinced that greater engagement between his members and the at-risk youths will yield those positive results. It’s something he experienced firsthand.
“Ten years ago, a 20-year-old me entered the halls of Club 1600 for the first time. Everything about Club 1600 was what I wanted for myself, but I only hoped to join. Who was I kidding? I couldn’t be a Toastmaster, I was still afraid to say, ‘bus stop’ on a jitney. How was I ‘gone speak’ in front of an audience of distinguished men? Who would ever see me as a leader? Not only that, I was also faced with a plethora of personal challenges that could destroy my life at any second,” Mr Taylor recalled.
“Some of these challenges many young people in our country are faced with today. I was consistently getting into fights, gang activity. I had horrible, horrible financial habits, family challenges. I had no direction, and I was in a rush to get nowhere. Nothing about me was remotely close to what I witnessed that evening. Yet, three meetings later, I was inducted. Three meetings later, I was exposed to an environment that would help me develop character.”
He added: “The way I walked, the way I spoke, my mindset, the way I now carried myself, would slowly change for the better. Low self-esteem became humility, arrogance became confidence, impetuous mistakes became prudent decision making. The environment that is Club 1600 became the furnace that would mold and shape my future for the better.”
With few positive role models and no constructive outlet for their free time, Mr Taylor hopes to create the same change within residents of the Simpson Penn Center for Boys.
He will be ably assisted by his officers. They include Education Vice President (VP) Edward Thurston, Membership VP Ray-Don Poitier, Public Relations VP Brian McPhee, Treasurer Azano Major, Secretary Paul Taylor Jr and Sergeant at Arms Bradley Carey Jr.
This club year, which runs from July 2021 to June 2022, will also see 1600 extend its reach to other Toastmasters Clubs, in addition to expanding its partnerships with the community of Union Village, Junior Achievement, the Gentleman’s Club, the T.A.R.A. project, Red Cross, and many others.
Internally, the club will introduce initiatives designed for members’ personal and professional development with workshops offered in job interview preparation, resume building, real estate investment, insurance, annuities and retirement plans. “The year 2020 and now into 2021, has been one of the more difficult times in the world and in this country as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Toastmasters was certainly not exempted from this difficulty,” said Mr Taylor. “As we now move into the 2021/2022 Administration, we will continue this unrelenting push towards our goals, as next generation leaders, working together towards tomorrow.”