It’s about more than just finding a summer job when it comes to YouthForce. The program, a partnership between the Region of Waterloo and local community centres, was designed to not only help youth find gainful employment during the summer months, but to also help better their communities – all while gaining valuable skills and experience in the process.
The goal is to “break the cycle of poverty” in the region’s youth; and with YouthForce entering its fourth year this summer, the program is hoping to expand its impact.
“The YouthForce program is an economic development program focussed on helping youth living in and around Waterloo Region housing community,” says Mina Fayez-Bahgat, manager of Waterloo Region Housing. “And basically it’s a partnership between Waterloo Region Housing and four different community centres that operate within our community and actually have community centres within our community housing.”
At its core, the program employs and trains youth in the region to perform house inspections of the region’s community housing units. These inspections are required by legislation for not-for-profit and affordable housing.
“We have to inspect units once a year for life safety checks like smoke detectors, windows, locks and doors,” says Fayez-Bahgat. With thousands of units to cover, it can be a time consuming task for a small staff to go through. Rather than have a small team of government inspectors carry out the inspections over the year, a team of youths can do the same in a summer.
This year, the program is hoping to hire up to 40 young people to complete 5,000 inspections.
The program sees participants spend a week in training, and the next eight weeks of the summer working out in the field. Four-and-a-half days of the week are spent performing inspections and an additional half-day is spent in the classroom focussed on personal development.
“The idea is that it’s a personal development program, not just a summer job,” says Fayez-Bahgat. “In those eight curriculum sessions, they would do things like resume building, job development, job readiness, even things like social media awareness, financial literacy and management, because often the program really focuses on first time employees.”
At the end of the eight weeks, the youth return to school and to their communities with a host of new skills and training and practical experience. Moreover, involvement in activities like community barbeques and outdoor beautification help youth connect with their own neighbourhoods, and foster a sense of community pride.
“So when they finish the eight weeks of the job, they’ll have a polished résumé, a polished cover letter, polished skills in interviewing. A whole bunch of training like WHMS, health and safety and customer service,” says Fayez-Bahgat. “All these different certificates in their back pockets so they have a pretty good portfolio of materials for their next job opportunity.”
The program is run in partnership with four community centres in the region, which in turn hire on the youth: the Greenway-Chaplin, Carizon, Langs and Kinbridge. The YouthForce inspectors then are able to provide inspections for both regional housing and other not-for-profit housing. But YouthForce could grow beyond community housing into private housing inspections as well, notes Fayez-Bahgat.
“Our goal is to grow it. Our goal is to become a social enterprise in three years, where the community centres can actually turn this into a longstanding sustainable program that is serving all landlords, not just community housing. They could service private landlords, student housing landlords, because the legislation is pretty much the same.”