Brenda Horner - Make a difference for our youth

Brenda Horner - Make a difference for our youth
Brenda Horner - Founder and Director, of the Gap Academy

BRENDA HORNER, is the founder and director of the Gap Academy which provides school and university leaving students the privileged opportunity to realistically assess, discover, plan and create for their future career and life paths.

A Greytown farm girl, Brenda has lived most of her life in the KZN Midlands and attended high school in Pietermaritzburg. After school, she studied a four year degree in food and clothing technology and a physical education degree for high school teaching. Brenda has followed an interesting and diverse career path from teaching, lecturing, and designing and manufacturing of wedding dresses, clothing and soft furnishings, to owning her own consulting and manufacturing interior design company for 27 years. During this time, she compiled also an interior design course for a correspondence school, raised two children and played competitive sport.

As a parent and an ex-educator, she was deeply disturbed by the number of students leaving school who did not know what they wanted to do, or were not prepared for the 'real world'. She was equally concerned by the high numbers of students making the wrong career choices and not completing their tertiary studies, and the many students wanting to study but unable to do so due to financial constraints.

Identifying the huge void after school, Brenda founded the Gap Academy in 2006 to provide students with a planned and purpose-driven gap year. Students have time to assess their career options and are equipped with knowledge and experience in essential life skills, business and personal finance management and develop emotionally to cope with life after school.

"There's so much going on in matric," she points out, "and the pressure to make a decision about the following year is enormous. It often leads to hasty, ill-informed decisions. Teenagers often have no idea what they want to do. They simply don't have the knowledge, experience or exposure to the realistic information they need to make the right choices."

To attend the Gap Academy, students need to be 17 years or older (there is no upper age limit - their oldest student was 42). "We prefer our students to have their matric," says Brenda, "but it's not essential. They do however require a good attitude to their work and colleagues, and they must want to attend Gap Academy to plan and achieve for themselves!

At the end of the year, our students will have more focus and clearer goals. They'll know what they want to do and have a plan to start the journey to get there."

Inspired every day

Brenda is inspired by her students, both past and present. "Looking at our students, I can see the impact we've made; that we're doing something really needed in our society. I see past students who've gone on to great things and I know we're making a difference. And I can see it in our current students too. I walk their journey with them every day. It's remarkable to see their growth in one short year, and it's wonderful to know we're instrumental in getting them onto the right path. They leave us with goals, plans and purpose. We give them a platform for life, and that's all the motivation I could ask for."

But the Gap Academy has provided another unexpected opportunity too. The business sector and other potential sponsors can see the worth of the Gap programme and get involved by financially investing and assisting students. Lecturers are selected on their reputation and professionalism and invest their time and knowledge in lecturing the students and giving back to the emerging youth.

Finding the balance

"I don't always achieve a good work/life balance," admits Brenda, "but it's probably been easier for me than many women. When I started this business, my children were grown, so I had fewer demands on my time. But I still need to plan for family time and me-time."

Acknowledging that she's very fortunate, Brenda says that her gender has never been an issue for her. "I've never found being a woman a disadvantage; not in my industry." Conceding that it may be more of an issue in male dominated industries, she points out that it's probably more important to be committed and to do what needs to be done. "Whether you're a man or a woman, you need to be at the top of your game to succeed."

Asked whether there's anything that she'd do differently, if she was to do it all over again, she hesitates. "Maybe I should have started this Gap year programme sooner. I've achieved what I set out to do, and I can see the results, so I'm very proud of that and I'm happy. It's great to know that you're making a difference in someone's life."

But she's not done yet. The Gap Academy has provided an invaluable service to students (and their parents) in the Pietermaritzburg area, but there's plenty of potential in other areas too.

http://www.kzntopbusiness.co.za/site/kzn-top-business-woman/Brenda-Horner/page/10244

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