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Region’s youth job-training program wins innovation award; now set to expand

Members and staff of YouthForce travelled to Toronto last week to accept an innovation award from the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association. [Submitted]

An employment program in Waterloo Region that “aims to break the cycle of poverty” has been officially recognized at the provincial level in the form of a prestigious award.

Members and staff of YouthForce, a community and region-led partnership, travelled to Toronto last week to accept an innovation award from the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association. Now in its fifth year, the program is looking to expand both in size and services.

“The social enterprise part of it continues to grow – it would raise the dollars, and we would hire more youth,” said Mina Fayez-Baghat, manager of housing services at the region. “The goal is to grow it to include over 50 youth in the next year or two.”

YouthForce is an employment based personal development for youth ages 14-24 that offers more than just a summer job: it allows workers to build personal skills and grow in career and educational opportunities.

Youth who live in or near region-owned community housing are hired to do work in their neighbourhoods over the summer, with one of the main components being house inspections. Workers are trained to make sure smoke detectors, window locks, and locks are functional, as well as to watch out for hazardous materials and displacement of damaged materials.

Throughout 2019, 36 youth completed more than 5,000 unit inspections and other work in their communities, generating $9,642 in revenue.

“We see youth employed in this program becoming mentors in their neighbourhoods,” said Joe-Ann McComb, executive director for Kinbridge Community Association, in a statement.

“We stay connected with them year-round, facilitating more training opportunities, access to resources, and employment with neighbourhood centres. Employment is the primary benefit but families and neighbours have pride in the youth. It is positive all around.”

The program has grown to encompass far more than house inspections, as every Friday, youth attend various learning sessions. Topics include financial management, how to manage social media profiles, crafting the right resume and cover letters, understanding antisocial behaviour, poverty, oppressiveness and equity. The sessions are an eight-week curriculum, and part of the job.

“We do also offer outdoor beautification – household cleaning, cleanup, and community beautification,” added Fayez-Baghat. “The youth organize fire drills and barbecues different things that the Region of Waterloo housing has already scheduled but they help with those events. It’s going well beyond the inspections now.”

Waterloo Region Housing senior staff will also act as references for youth following their time with the organization, to help them with career opportunities in the future.

Employees make more than minimum wage –  the entry level position starts around $14.50 per hour. For the inspector job, the wage can range between $15-15.50, then supervisors and team leaders make up to $16 an hour. Hours are typically seven hours a day, starting at 9 a.m. until around 4 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and then a half-day on Friday.

The program began in 2015 and is delivered by Waterloo Region, Kinbridge Community Association, Carizon Family and Community Services, Greenway-Chaplin Community Centre, and Langs.

Kinbridge recently received $750,000 from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to help YouthForce operate year-round and generate enough revenue to make the program self-sustainable.

“YouthForce started because Waterloo Region Housing needed to get a series of inspections done due to a legislative change – it required us to track damages to materials that are made within the unit. In order to get that done in the right amount of time, it would have required us to hire an outside consultant to do it,” explained Fayez-Baghat.

“We ultimately decided that this would be a great opportunity to let the youth get an opportunity to work … from there, we layered on the personal development. We wanted to make sure we could get youth to have more than just a summer job.”

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