The Bridgehampton Child Care and Recreational Center’s Teach Me How to Fish Program was among a host of nonprofit organizations working to advance racial equity and eliminate racial income gaps on Long Island that received part of a $400,000 grant from the Long Island Racial Equity Donor Collaborative at the Long Island Community Foundation.
The program in Bridgehampton focuses on providing minority community members with high skills training opportunities in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) fields in order to create new career opportunities. Teach Me How to Fish was first launched by Executive Director Bonnie Cannon during the pandemic, and was soon after invited to be a part of the Long Island Racial Equity Initiative to address racial inequalities on Long Island.
“Basically, the program was created because we want to impact marginalized communities, and close up the equity gap because statistics show that Black individuals on Long Island have a very low income in comparison to others,” Ms. Cannon said. “There are a lot of individuals from 18 to 45 years old that either went to college, came back and are working a minimum wage job 50-60 hours a week, or they never went to college for whatever reason and are working 50-60 hours a week, or older folks that are retired but still need a steady income. This program is for them.”
The program focuses primarily on providing individuals 18 and up with skills and knowledge needed in order to land high paying jobs in STEAM fields. Ms. Cannon said that while many of the program’s members have jobs, they tend to be low-paying, and what they truly need is a career in a field where they can achieve upward economic mobility. Long term, Ms. Cannon hopes that the program will help close up the large gap in economic equity on the East End, noting that while “it’s hard work, it is necessary work, and eventually it’s going to really make an impact for this generation and future generations.”
Currently, the program focuses on STEAM industry tracks, but real estate, trade, and entrepreneurship are all fields Ms. Cannon hopes to add to the program in the near future.
“STEAM is where a lot of the high salary positions are coming from — software engineers or IT types of jobs where people can learn quickly and get an entry level position with a steady salary — so that’s the area that we are focused on right now,” Ms. Cannon said. “But the next industry track that we’re looking at is real estate. You can count on one hand the number of Black individuals in real estate on the East End, and we want to change that. It’s our goal to continue to add industry tracks as we go — we’re going to be expanding a lot more over time.”
Ms. Cannon noted that she often refers to Teach Me How to Fish as a “strategy” rather than just a program, because of the long lasting impact that it leaves on its members. In addition to teaching technical skills necessary for particular fields, mentor coaches work with individuals one on one as well as in group sessions to teach life skills, help individuals create and plan their vision for the future, and focus on budgeting and financial literacy.
Though the grant offers an opportunity for the program to get off the ground, Ms. Cannon said that more funding is needed in addition to support from the local community and local businesses in order to add industry tracks of focus, enroll more individuals in the program, and continue to leave a lasting impact.
“Now that we have the funding, which it’s not enough, we need more but it is a start, we’re going to be working with individuals hands on, one on one, from start to finish,” Ms. Cannon said. “But we really need support from our local businesses. If local businesses can make internships available for people in the program that would help a lot. We’re looking for partners that want to be a part of this movement, this strategy.”
The effectiveness of the program certainly shows, especially for Abraham Johnson, Teach Me How to Fish’s first ever graduate, who is currently working a job in the IT industry.
“The Center’s new workforce training program helped me gain skills that instantaneously made my resume more attractive to employers. I now have a full-time job with many more continuing offers,” Mr. Johnson said. “I am so grateful to Ms. Bonnie and the Teach Me How to Fish Program for providing me the vehicle to grow and pursue my education, without the back-breaking educational costs.”
Ms. Cannon added that the program offers a unique way of giving back to the local community that many other programs and non-profit organizations don’t offer.
“There’s so much wealth out here, but this is an opportunity to give back to those that live here in a unique way that is going to stick with them for their entire lives,” she said.
Even the program’s unique and thoughtful name lends to the program’s mission of providing individuals with the skills and tools they need in order to land high paying jobs and achieve upward economic mobility.
“You could give me all the fish in the world if you wanted to,” Ms. Cannon said, explaining the proverbial nature of the program’s name. “But if you teach me, if you take me out to the water and let me put the bait on the hook, let me learn how to fish myself — that is what will stay with me for a lifetime.”