Jen Harrison wipes tears from her eyes.
After 13 years, the Pathway Project, a busy employment agency helping youth in the West Shore, is closing in mid-August. A casualty of federal cuts, the loss slams the door on both the community and the people they want to serve, said Harrison, community co-ordinator for WorkLink, the parent organization to Pathway.
“We want youth to vote, we want youth to be involved in their communities, we want youth to have a voice so we can create inclusive places to grow and develop,” she said.
“When we close these places down, we send the opposite message.”
Participants are between 15 and 30, are not in school and are out of work. Pathway sees them paid minimum wage to go through programming aimed at building their skills and confidence. They also learn first aid, take the FoodSafe course and learn customer service as a way to get into or return to the workforce.
“It is very hard to explain why places like this have to close, especially when everything around them (here) is growing,” Harrison said. (This program) is considered a success by youth and politicians, municipally, provincially and federally. We hit our stats, we do our deliverables. We deliver, but it closes and I don’t understand why.”
Randy Waldie, co-ordinator for the Langford-based Pathway Project, may also lose his job in the process. He said the 16-week program has helped hundreds of people, a fact that show opportunities like this are needed more, not less.
“The demand far outstrips what anyone is able to provide right now, and right now there is nothing (else),” he said.
He said Service Canada no longer has a youth hiring program. “What is a youth going to do to get a resume or a little direction with a little help, let alone all the barriers our youth here deal with?”
Many people who walk through their doors at Pathway have barriers in their lives that make finding a job more difficult, Waldie said. Staff help them work through feelings of anxiety, depression, lack of work experience, addiction and health issues.
The program provides both structure and support, helping people like 21-year old Melissa Page, who graduated out of the program a month ago.
“I was really shy, I had been dealing with depression and wasn’t able to put myself out there,” she said. “They challenged us in many different ways and when it was hard, they would take me aside and help me. (They) really understand everyone’s needs. It gave me the confidence I needed to get out here.”
The Langford resident hadn’t been working for almost two years when she decided to give Pathway a shot and now enjoys her receptionist job at Chatters hair salon.
“It makes me really upset, because the program has been around for 13 years and helped me,” she said of the funding cut. “Youth in general have a hard time finding work and it helps us get to where we need to go … to hear that people are not going to be there is distressing.”
The program, which costs approximately $435,000 a year, sees $211,000 of the funds for minimum wage, 30 hours per week for participants. The rest goes to administration including rent and staff.
Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca MP Randall Garrison said it is a good investment and has seen the program in action, having met young participants as they went through in the past.
He called the move the wrong cut at the wrong time.
“It has been a great success at getting at-risk youth into jobs or back into school and that has to be one of our highest priorities,” he said. “I know they get at least three times the applicants than they can take … If you help get at-risk youth now, it will actually save you money down the road.”
Waldie, who still takes calls about program placement, doesn’t know where to go from here.
“I am very sad, because there are less and less (services) for youth, particularly youth that are vulnerable … there is just nothing. Nothing,” he said. “Parents, social workers and youth are calling every day about the next intake, (but) there will be no next intake.”