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How East Preston Empowerment Academy is helping marginalized adults get on their feet

Click to play video: 'Program aims to help Black Nova Scotians continue their education' Program aims to help Black Nova Scotians continue their education
A program aimed at helping members of the Black community continue their education and find a job is a local success story. A new study looks at how the East Preston Empowerment Academy is changing the lives of participants. Amber Fryday has that story. – Sep 20, 2021

A program aimed at helping members of the Black community continue their education and find a job is changing the lives of its participants, the school’s president says.

The East Preston Empowerment Academy (EPEA) started in 2014 at the East Preston Baptist Church in Nova Scotia as a way to empower and equip members of its community with the necessary skills, tools and confidence.

Read more: Under-representation in classrooms can be a huge setback for Black learners: N.S. educators

An initial basic adult learning program was soon followed with the implementation of a GED program, and now the academy offers support to help participants gain their Red Seal certification for skilled trade industries, according to Wanda Thomas Bernard, the EPEA president.

“The main goal is in the name. The main goal is empowerment of learners of African descent and other people who have experienced some sort of marginalization from mainstream education,” she said from her daughter’s home in Whitby, Ont., where she was working virtually on Monday.

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A new study was conducted by Deloitte Canada on how EPEA delivers significant economic and socio-economic benefits to Nova Scotia.

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According to Deloitte, “EPEA’s cumulative economic contribution from 2016 to 2020 was $1.02 million to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), $783,000 in labour income and the creation of 14 sustained full-time jobs.”

“The study also found that the EPEA delivered a range of socio-economic benefits, including the removal of barriers to education, strengthened labour market integration and support for better employment opportunities.”

The study said that the programs offered by EPEA have long-term beneficial impacts on the lives of the participants.

Howard Benjamin was a participant of the program, and is now working as a Red Seal electrician.

Read more: 1st Black member of Nova Scotia Health board of directors was ‘stunned’ by dismissal

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“I mean the folks that were there volunteering, I can’t say enough for that. They could have been home with their families and they’re out there helping out. So, if that doesn’t motivate you, I don’t know what will,” Benjamin said.

He now has an apprentice working under him, who is now also involved with EPEA.

“He also wants to help and give back to the community when he is finished,” Benjamin said of his apprentice.

The programs offered are available to anyone, but Bernard said they primarily want to help those in marginalized groups, and women.

“Marginalized groups in Canada face long-standing social and economic disparities, including wage gaps, lower labour participation rates and higher unemployment and underemployment. Canada’s Black population remains one of its most disadvantaged,” Bernard is quoted as saying in a press release.

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“This study confirms what we have long believed — that the EPEA is generating a lasting positive influence on students, local partners and the broader community. With the support of our funders, we can continue to help enrich the lives of our students, and of those around them, for decades to come.”

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Bernard also said seeing the programs go virtual through the COVID-19 pandemic proved beneficial in many ways.

“We can run programs across the province,” she said in an interview. “I certainly hope that people from around the province will see this as an opportunity for them as a second chance for learning.”

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