At JVS Toronto our aim is to bring people and work together. I focus specifically on helping connect kids with job opportunities. Because many have been in conflict with the law at one time or another and many haven’t yet developed the life skills needed to hold a job, let alone put together a resume, this is not always a straight forward process. But I and any number of youth outreach workers here at JVS – as well as other city youth agencies – can tell you that getting the basics right makes all the difference. What kind of basics am I talking about? The kind of basics kids in our Jane and Finch neighbourhood are not necessarily used to receiving.
In our minds, it’s straightforward. Give kids our full attention, speak to them, not at them, find out what they are good at and encourage the heck out of them. Build in them a sense of ownership and confidence, and self-esteem follows. It does, though, take patience, a long-term vision, and more hours than there are in a day. 9 to 5 this is not. People who work with marginalized youth do it because they love it, and see the potential hiding in even the most uncommunicative. At JVS, we provide access to everything from life skills training, resume writing, and interview support. We also go out and actively advocate for our youth with potential employers. Unfortunately in many cases we have to. Potential employers see Jane and Finch on a resume and often stigmatize the youth based on address alone. How frustrating is that?! Part of our role is to help them see past the address to the actual potential of the youth.
So what do I imagine can help to make a better city for the youth I spend my days with? Here’s what I think is important:
- Support needs to start with good housing, a healthy environment, and a room to themselves where they can study and think.
- We need to reduce the number of youths in conflict with the law. I can’t easily tackle that topic in one post, but mutual respect is one place to start. I’m happy to say that just last week, JVS Toronto, along with a number of other agencies in Ward 8, were invited to meet with a new Unit Commander and new Inspector from our neighbourhood division. I came away hopeful that they are serious about building and sustaining relationships with our community.
- Neighbourhoods must work together. Inter-generational discussion is crucial. Neighbours need to watch out for each other’s kids on the streets, help ensure they get home from school safely. Community leaders need to watch out for and provide mentoring for young families. It may be an over-used cliché, but it’s still true: it takes a village to raise a child.
- Continue core-funded youth programs for high-risk youth. Encourage more youth-led initiatives. Initiatives like the recently announced Youth Action Plan are right on the money! Please don’t let anyone refer to Youth programs as “hug-a-thug”.
- Provide a safe, interesting place for activities that engage and promote social interaction, and promote physical health. Community/recreation centres are vital.
- Give youth a chance. If every person with a stereotype is willing to break through it, a youth may get the first chance in life they’ve ever truly been given.
Can you imagine what a young person with that kind of self-esteem could do?