Al­pha Boys’ prod­ucts at­tracts man­u­fac­tur­ers

Jamaica Gleaner - - FRONT PAGE - Sashakay Fair­clough Gleaner Writer

THE AL­PHA Boys’ In­sti­tute is grab­bing the at­ten­tion of some Ja­maican man­u­fac­tur­ers with some of the finest pieces of wooden prod­ucts out of its Ser­vice Bu­reau.

“We make things for in­di­vid­u­als and man­u­fac­tur­ers, too,” says Den­nise McGre­gor, who is in charge of op­er­a­tions there. “We make the crates for Straight from Yard, which they use for gift dis­plays. They wrap them and put things in them, such as flow­ers. There is another com­pany called Art Smart, and we make their boxes. Man­u­fac­tur­ers are some of our big­gest cus­tomers.”

The Al­pha Boys’ Ser­vice Bu­reau pro­duces wood­work items for about five or­gan­i­sa­tions on a full-time ba­sis, in­clud­ing the Ja­maica Tourist Board, Florida. Asked how such a lu­cra­tive deal came about, McGre­gor in­di­cated that it was com­pletely by ac­ci­dent.

“Some­one re­ceived a gift from the Mon­tego Bay Club, and they were so im­pressed with it that when they looked at the bot­tom of the box and saw that it was made by us, they got in touch,” she said. “We have been mak­ing boxes for the Ja­maica Tourist Board, Florida ever since.”

Wood­work is one of its old­est op­er­a­tions, and is there­fore one it is ex­tremely proud of. And yet, this se­cret at the South Camp Road in­sti­tu­tion, which some man­u­fac­tur­ers are on to, is only a part of what they do in the Ser­vice Bu­reau.


Founded by the Sis­ters of Mercy, Ja­maica from as early as 1880, the Al­pha Boys’ In­sti­tute re­mains one of the long­est-run­ning vo­ca­tional schools in the coun­try. Al­though the in­sti­tu­tion is no longer a home for boys, the Al­pha Boys’ School con­tin­ues to pro­vide its two-year train­ing course to those who were housed there, as well as to re­cent in­takes. Lo­cated on 26 acres of the 40 that the Al­pha In­sti­tute is on, the boys’ school pro­vides train­ing in var­i­ous trades, in­clud­ing print­ing, wood­work, and mu­sic. Late last year, screen print­ing, land­scap­ing and bar­ber­ing were in­tro­duced to the cur­ricu­lum in or­der to cre­ate more rounded young men.

The Ser­vice Bu­reau, which was formed in 2003, oc­cu­pies a small build­ing on the Al­pha com­pound. It was the brain­child of Sis­ter Su­san Foster, who de­cided that it would be a good way to utilise the train­ing given to the boys so that the in­sti­tute and Ja­maica at large would di­rectly ben­e­fit.

As the per­son in charge of op­er­a­tions, McGre­gor over­sees the print­ery, the wood­work shop lo­cated di­rectly across the street, from it and a gift shop.

The print­ery has been around for about 40 years and is home to the lat­est dig­i­tal and bind­ing ma­chines. McGre­gor dis­closed that per­sons go to the print­ery to copy, spi­ral bind, lam­i­nate, among other things, and that they are paid to print any­thing from busi­ness cards to books. These are all done dig­i­tally, of course, on one of their state-of-the-art dig­i­tal print­ers.

En­grav­ing is another of their spe­cial­ties.

“It is our largest in­come gen­er­a­tor, and we even use a laser en­graver to make ex­er­cise books,” she noted. “One of the big­gest myths is that we only work for the Catholic Church and schools, but that’s not true. We can’t af­ford to ad­ver­tise, but we work for who­ever re­quires our ser­vices.”

Land­scap­ing and bar­ber­ing are not yet avail­able to the pub­lic as train­ing is cur­rently on­go­ing, how­ever, the bar­ber­ing ser­vices are of­fered to staff and fam­ily mem­bers for now.


When ques­tioned about the con­tri­bu­tion that the Ser­vice Bu­reau makes to the Ja­maican econ­omy, McGre­gor pointed at the boys in the wood­work shop.

“We send them out on job ex­pe­ri­ence ev­ery two years. Se­cond-year stu­dents go out for be­tween two and four weeks to dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies. We cur­rently have 10 to 15 out of our se­cond-year stu­dents who have found jobs from par­tic­i­pat­ing in the job-ex­pe­ri­ence ven­ture. Also, many can start their own busi­nesses or work with other peo­ple. Their fam­i­lies ben­e­fit by ex­ten­sion as well. We are a so­cial en­ter­prise be­cause we sell things for profit, but it all goes right back into the in­sti­tu­tion.”

In ad­di­tion, their mu­sic train­ing has pro­duced some of Ja­maica’s best tal­ents.

“King Yel­low­man and count­less oth­ers were at Al­pha Boys’ Home. Al­most ev­ery band in Ja­maica has an Al­pha boy, the same for most print­er­ies and wood­work shops,” McGre­gor said.

The gift shop is another one of their in­come gen­er­a­tors. They sell marked Tshirts, printed books, trin­ket boxes, curved clocks, pens, among other things, but McGre­gor in­sists that there is still an is­sue with fund­ing.

“If we even make a 30 per cent profit, by the time we are fin­ished with the train­ing, tools, equip­ment and ma­te­rial, that profit is wiped clean, so we need fund­ing. HEART TRUST/NTA just came on board and are as­sist­ing us, so we get some spon­sor­ship from them for some of the trades, but not all.”

Forty acres may not be much, but the num­ber of per­sons who have trained with Al­pha over decades show the ded­i­ca­tion and hard work of ev­ery­one there. The in­come gen­er­ated by the Ser­vice Bu­reau is nec­es­sary for the daily run­ning of Al­pha.

McGre­gor said, “Since we opened, we have trained hun­dreds of thou­sands of boys. Back in the day, we used to house up to 600 boys. The ju­niors would stay in school, and the se­niors, who were at least 15 years old, were the ones who learnt trade. Up to 10 years ago, we were hous­ing 250 (boys). Cur­rently, we have a pop­u­la­tion av­er­age of about 120. We have the ca­pac­ity for more, but peo­ple don’t seem to know about us, and we can’t ad­ver­tise on the scale we would like to, so it’s more via word of mouth. Our ad­min depart­ment hands out re­cruit­ment leaflets in var­i­ous neigh­bour­hoods ev­ery year.”

“One of the big­gest myths is that we only work for the Catholic Church and schools, but that’s not true. We can’t af­ford to ad­ver­tise, but we work for who­ever re­quires our ser­vices.”


Wood­work in the mak­ing. Be­low: Fin­ished prod­ucts on dis­play.


Equip­ment that is used in the Ser­vice Bu­reau to boost pro­duc­tion.

Out of the print­ery at the Al­pha Boys’ In­sti­tute on South Camp Road, Kingston.

Two men are busy in the Wood­work Depart­ment.

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