WHEN girls transition out of St Jude's Home for Girls, they often need jobs, work clothes, and sometimes a home. The organisers of the NiNa Programme, a mentorship programme for young girls, want to help the girls of St Jude's.
St Jude's, at Belmont Circular Road, is a reformatory home where socially displaced girls are sent. hey live there and are educated and exposed to personal development programmes.
On Sunday, a "Carnival couture" event to raise funds for the programme, called Bodacious Girls Gala, was held at Castle Killarney, formerly Stollmeyer's Castle. Moko jumbies, fancy sailors, midnight robbers, baby dolls and more were all there to greet guests, who also had access to the Carnival at the Castle, a multi-media exhibition by the Carnival Institute and the National Archives.
Paintings, hand-crafted headpieces and artisan creams were auctioned to raise funds as well. The crowd was also entertained by robber talk, a violin performance by sixth-form student Danicia Morris, a guitar performance by Marva Newton
and Freetown Collective.
At the gala Newsday spoke to a couple of the girls who recently transitioned out of St Jude's, who took part in the NiNa Programme and described it as transformative.
Makeda Mounter recently left St Jude's. She was sent there for two years after circumstances she declined to disclose led to her running away from home. She said she was "uncontrollable," but St Jude's helped her improve her circumstances.
"While there, it was difficult at first because of the children, new faces, being around only girls. The girls had different emotions. They were crying and some were damaging themselves," Mounter said.
She said her first few months were hard, but she was put in several personal development programmes.
"The staff were very helpful. They put me in programmes so I could better myself to be a better woman in the free world."
These included the NiNa Programme. "That has been a great experience for me."
She said it showed her how to be self-resilient and exposed her to women who have overcome difficult circumstances.
"I was being tutored about how to work on your own, how to be yourself no matter the circumstances I went through, no matter what difficulties that have been going through in my head, I am somebody when I get out of the home. They taught us a lot of things and they gave us a lot of experience: how to help yourself; how to help people, if you want to. The NiNa Programme is a helpful programme for young ladies. Even if you turn 18, they would still be there and stick with you no matter what," she said.
Mounter is working at Turtle Beach Resort, Tobago, as a waitress and staying with her grandmother in Canaan.
Cindy Gonzales, 19, also spent two years at St Jude's. She said while many people may have an aversion to being restricted from the outside world, she felt she was exposed to many opportunities as a ward there.
"I wasn't too well when I ended up in St Jude's. My parents could not handle it and went the route of the court and the court sent me to St Jude's.
"It was interesting. Some of the wards may take it as an instance where you are locked out from the outside world and you're not getting to do what you want to do. For me, it's a learning experience. I was exposed to a lot more things inside there than I would have been able to do outside."
Aside for the NiNa Programme, Gonzales did a classroom-to-boardroom "polish" course and a culinary arts course.
"It was a good two years. I enjoyed my two years. When I had to leave I was sad. I developed a bond with the girls. We looked out for each other."
Gonzales now lives with her family, as her parents are dead. She works with the Ministry of Community Development as a clerk at the Carifesta Secretariat.
Akousua Dardaine-Edwards, founder of the NiNa Programme, was grateful to the people who showed up to support the gala.
"This night is a testament that we have people in TT who are willing to support and willing to come together and make the country a better place," Dardaine-Edwards said.
She describes the programme as an annual boot camp, but would like to use her foundation to assist the girls with their transition process.
"Right now what happens is the ones who left, they call us for things like shoes and things to live with. We want to have a fund so we could support basic needs. I want to be able to get jobs for them, have some sort of coaching where they could have a safe space to talk about whatever their issues are. I also want it to be a place where they thrive and have a safe space where they could live, thrive, learn and fail forward, take risks and not feel like they are on their own," she said.
The Bodacious Girls Gala was hosted jointly by the Cleopatra Borel Foundation.
Borel, a shot putter who has taken part in the Olympics and Commonwealth Games, among other international sporting events, has been volunteering as a mentor with the Nina Programme. She also hopes to use funds raised at the gala to support her own programme to encourage girls to take part in field events.
"I feel fantabulous, because at one point I was really worried and nervous, but so many people came out to support us and so many people came out to support my foundation, the NiNa foundation and the girls at St Jude's," she said.