Engaging younger tenants during the summer months
Along with warm weather and sunny skies, summer brings new opportunities for young people in housing communities across Ontario. From employment programs to college readiness training, non-profit housing providers are developing unique programs to ensure that youth have the chance to make the most of their summers.
For the past two summers, Toronto Community Housing (TCHC) has had over 100 of their residents, aged 14 to 29, participate in the YouthWorx program. The program provides youth with an employment opportunity where they are paid to make improvements to their communities. Duties include sign cleaning, gardening and pruning, light repair work, cleaning storage and recreation rooms, painting, and yard maintenance.
As part of the YouthWorx program, participants receive training in health and safety, team building, financial literacy and other areas. Last year, the program partnered with George Brown College, which lead weekly leadership and professional development trainings.
According to Nadia Gouveia, the Manager of Economic Development and Resident Employment at TCHC, part of the success of the YouthWorx program is its commitment to accessibility. “We have a hiring process that is slightly unique in terms of minimizing barriers,” she says. “If we just post a job on our website, that position might not reach young people that don’t have internet access or the skills to apply for a job online.” With this in mind, YouthWorx hires its employees through three open-call sessions that are advertised through flyers distributed in TCHC communities.
While a program the size of YouthWorx may be harder to achieve in smaller communities, Gouveia maintains that the program could be replicated on smaller scale. She also adds that measures such as providing all employees with the same uniforms can go a long way to increasing the visibility and legitimacy of the program. “Now, we have other residents contact us if they are having a community event, so that the workers can help set up and clean up after,” she says.
At Ottawa Community Housing (OCH), summer is a time for young people to focus on what’s next. The Youth Futures program, which is coordinated through OCH and delivered by a number of partners, has four components: a summer job placement; 10 days of on-campus experience and orientation at Ottawa’s college and university campuses; advanced leadership training; and community volunteer opportunities. Each year, over 50 per cent of program participants are high school students living in OCH communities.
Youth Futures was originally founded by researchers from the University of Ottawa, who wanted to help students with strong academic records go on to post-secondary education. According to Brian Gilligan, Executive Director of Community Development for OCH, “The school board and the Ministry of Education have identified that for certain young people, their chances of going to post-secondary education is low, regardless of their marks. We want to help develop the skills, social network and confidence to let bright young people with potential reach their goals.”
Gilligan invites any other providers who might be interested in replicating the Youth Futures model to “come and talk to us.” He hopes that similar programs for youth can be developed in other communities. “It is legitimate for housing providers to be concerned about the futures of the young people that live with them,” he says. “We have a right to be involved, as we have a perspective that other agencies might not have.”
Summer youth programs in non-profit housing communities don’t just exist in Ontario’s biggest cities. Over the past few years, the Nipissing District Housing Corporation (NDHC) has offered tenant programs including gardening workshops, adventures in cooking classes, family fun days, literacy camp, and yoga for kids.
“Most of the sessions were really successful, but some were more popular than others,” says TracyAnn Bethune, NDHC’s Tenant Services Manager. “We built on that by doing surveys after every activity, to see what people enjoyed most. We even had a session where kids came up with ideas for what they would like to see.”
Youth in the community are brought on to help run the summer activities, such as summer educational camps, future exercise classes, and the community kitchen. 20 youth will also have the chance participate in a paid summer first-aid training (eight youth already have ), where they can become certified. “This helps increase their job opportunities, for things like babysitting and other part-time jobs,” says Bethune.
While NDHC has successfully applied for funding for these initiatives, Bethune stresses that it is possible to have engaging summer programs for children and youth on a tight budget. “We’ve had volunteers come and teach martial arts, yoga classes, and face painting,” she says. “Once we told people about our tenant engagement program, we were able to access their services at no charge.”