Job program for at-risk youth gets the axe
Staff and students at Cloverdale Learning Centre can’t believe a popular, successful job training program for at-risk youth is coming to an end.
This afternoon, a few of them will be joining participants and supporters of the Baristas program as they gathering for a final farewell at the Guildford Youth Resource Centre.
It’s an untimely wrap-up for an award-winning program that was held up as a model by B.C.’s business community and helped brew job success for hundreds of youth in Surrey, Cloverdale and Langley over the past decade.
Offered through Pacific Community Resources Society and Starbucks Coffee Canada, the Baristas Skills Link Program was a unique partnership between a social services agency, the private sector, the Surrey School District and the federal government. The agency is at a loss to explain why the federal government has decided it will no longer support the program.
It was designed to give students like Cloverdale’s Paige Ferguson, 18, and Langley’s Dain Leguerrier, 17, a foot in the door of the labour market by helping them overcome barriers to employment.
They completed the program last week as part of the final intake. Both are disappointed to learn the program won’t be continuing.
Participants go through an intensive, six-week life skills program, followed by a nine-week, paid work placement at Starbucks, where they are treated like any other employee and held to the same expectations.
“We are trained and treated like any other barista,” Leguerrier said.
Now that he’s completed the program, he’s re-applied to work at Starbucks while he continues his studies at Cloverdale Learning Centre.
“I think I look at myself and others in a completely different way,” he said. “I have a new outlook on life, my goals, self-definition, self-discipline, and how to go about getting employment.”
Participants are placed at various Starbucks, including in Cloverdale.
“Once you get settled, it’s really nice,” Ferguson said. “It’s actually a really great place to work.”
Susan Johnson, the career development facilitator at Cloverdale Learning Centre, said the baristas program went deeper than other youth employment programs.
“These are kids who come from abusive homes, no homes, and have multiple barriers, whether it’s addiction, or lack of self esteem,” she said.
Baristas program supervisor Siobahn Pires learned in November federal funding would be coming to an end.
“We weren’t given an exact reason,” she said. “Our funding has always comes through at the 11th hour. This came as a surprise.”
Although the program was launched in Surrey in 2003, more recently participants came from all over the Lower Mainland after the Vancouver barista program and a pilot project in North Vancouver were closed down.
“We were told they were no longer funding duplicate programs,” Pires said.
Over the past decade, 370 students have completed the barista skills program – 232 from the Surrey area. The society receives roughly 70 to 80 applications per session. With only 10 seats available at a time, some 195 youth are turned away each year.
“It’s frustrating,” she said. “There’s going to be a lot of people looking for services that just aren’t available now.”
She praised Starbucks for standing up for the community’s youth in the beginning and sticking with the program over the years.
“Starbucks just provides a really open, non judgmental environment for them to learn. That’s been huge. They’re really working with our youth. A lot of employers aren’t willing to take a chance.”