A West Shore youth employment agency is celebrating a bittersweet 10-year anniversary amid fears it will shut down at the end of the week if federal funding doesn’t come through.
Worklink Employment Society’s Pathway Project has helped hundreds of troubled or struggling West Shore teens and young adults sharpen their life skills and land good jobs.
Pathway’s staff Jen Harrison and Randy Waldie face being laid off on Friday, the day the agency’s funding contract expires with Service Canada. Worklink has given notice to the landlord of 847 Goldstream Ave. that it may vacate the office it has held for eight years.
Worklink is hopeful funding will still materialize, that the contract sign-off in Ottawa is simply delayed due to summer holidays. But Pathway employees say federal contract renewals have never been delayed this long and they worry funding could be lost as the federal government looks to cut spending.
“The positive thing is we haven’t been told the contract won’t be signed – usually you are told when it’s not going to be signed,” said Janice Booth, assistant director of Worklink. “We haven’t heard either way. We are hopeful it is on a desk (in Ottawa).”
Waldie and Harrison say that even if funding comes through at the last minute, they’ll still likely be laid off and that the service to youth will be interrupted.
“No one knows from the local to the national level if the federal government will stay in the youth employment business,” Waldie said. “No one has given us any indication of anything coming down the pipeline.”
Losing Pathway would be a major blow to the already scant youth services on the West Shore. Teens and young adults who move through the program cope with barriers such as mental health issues, substance abuse, emotional abuse or learning disabilities. The program reaches beyond writing resumes and honing interview skills.
“Some (clients) have no place to live, or no food or clothing,” Harrison says. “Many can’t manage their lives and have no bank accounts, no B.C. ID. Some youth may have criminal records, or struggle with addiction and have few supportive adults.
“Our No. 1 priority is to help youth secure meaningful employment. There is no quick fix for this. It’s about building relationships and that takes time.”
Over the years the Pathway Project – a free 16-week program during which clients are paid minimum wage – has helped at least 400 young people find jobs in construction, retail, auto repair, hotels and landscaping, among others. Of the 80 per cent who graduate from the program, 97 per cent land good jobs and break the cycle of minimum wage, fast-food jobs, Waldie and Harrison say.
“The youth will tell you (the Pathway Project) is no easy way to make $8 per hour,” Harrison said. “We look at what keeps them stuck. They get long lasting self-reliance and learn things beyond help with a resume.”
“You can’t just throw information at people and send them on their way,” Waldie adds. “There are youth in the community who are really suffering and we’ve proved this is an excellent resource.”
Without a youth drop-in centre on the West Shore, the Pathway Project’s Goldstream Avenue office acts as an informal and safe place for past and current students to hang out and seek advice from adults. Many Pathway grads return to mentor students and to share stories survival and growth.
Past student Alex Andersen, 21, said Pathway helped motivate him to become engaged at school and attend Camosun college.
“They do a lot of behaviour work, people with (attention deficit disorder),” Andersen said. “It’s valuable. A lot of people found jobs that suit them or found out what it takes to get working.”