Links Employability Program ends after funding loss

After 10 years of helping troubled youth find and keep a job, the Links Employability Program is ending.

Leave out Violence training program helped troubled teenagers find and keep jobs

The Links Employability Program was run by the group LOVE ( Leave Out Violence) and helped young adults who faced challenges find and keep jobs.

After 10 years of helping troubled youth find and keep a job, the Links Employability Program is ending.

Employment and Social Development Canada cut the funding to the program this spring, leaving several young adults with fewer options. Run by the group Leave Out Violence (LOVE) in Halifax, the links program targeted young people who were struggling to find and keep a job.

LOVE is a national youth-directed group with offices across Canada. They focus on programs to help troubled teenagers and young adults get their lives together, by working on violence prevention and intervention. The Links Employability Program was one of LOVE's key programs.

In its 10 years of operation, 120 young adults, mainly people in their 20s, went through the program and most graduated.

Once they entered the program, participants would come to the LOVE office every weekday for six months, Monday to Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. as if it were a real job.

They learned life skills and work skills, how to be disciplined and responsible, and how to get along with others.

Sarah MacLaren, executive director of LOVE in Halifax, says the participants had multiple barriers to employment.

"Some of our kids would have been reintegrating, probably, from the criminal justice system. Some of our kids had suffered problems with addictions, some of our kids the biggest barrier was not knowing yet what they wanted to do, and not having had the chance to be exposed to those things, that actually lit a passion in them," she said.

In Links, the young adults practised writing resumes and prepared for job interviews. Organizers also invited guest speakers with similar backgrounds to come in and talk about how they turned their lives around.

MacLaren said they visited the Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) and universities in Halifax to see the possibilities offered there. They also toured businesses and met with employers.

If they had [the Links Employability Program] as a resource then they definitely could have avoided really crappy places where they are now. Addictions, criminal history, being homeless, being in jail.- Nathan Dodsworth

It didn't stop with the job hunt — the participants regularly visited the gym so they could learn about taking care of their health.

To make it seem like a real job, the youth were also paid a stipend equivalent to minimum wage for 35 hours a week — a bonus lesson in managing a pay cheque and saving money.

MacLaren says many of the former participants are now employed.

Rejection came as a surprise

"Leading beautiful successful lives, and who attribute that to having had just this little piece of time to sit and get an extra boost, and then go on for the next 40, 50, 60 years of their lives in a pretty different manner than they might have before," she said.

MacLaren says the funding cut came out of the blue. In April she received a rejection letter from Employment and Social Development Canada.

The letter stated: "(ESDC) makes its project approval decisions based on numerous factors such as program terms and conditions and criteria, national, regional and local priorities, and the quality of the proposal. These factors are taken under consideration when assessing all project proposals. Following the analysis of your proposal, the funding for (Links Employability Program) was not accepted."

Since then MacLaren and members of the board of LOVE have tried to get the funding reinstated to no avail.

The decision has left many youth in the lurch. Now former graduates are stepping forward to sing the program's praises.

Success stories pour out of the woodwork

Alvero Wiggins, 26, graduated from links five years ago. He says it was there for him at the right time. He never finished high school and had his first child at 21 years old.

After he graduated from links, the program co-ordinator helped him get a job at a local cafe. Wiggins was able to save a little money move his girlfriend into an apartment of their own.

One day, the co-ordinator of the nearby community garden Hope Blooms came in and, after noting how much Wiggins loved working with food and people, asked him if he'd like to help the teens at the garden make salad dressings.

The north-end group went on to gain a $40,000 investment from the CBC reality show Dragons' Den. Their dressings sell out every season.

Wiggins is both the program co-ordinator for Hope Blooms, as well as the program coordinator of another community group, Halifax's St. George's YouthNet.

Ryan Gannon credits the Links Employability Program for helping him get a job in video production. He graduated seven years ago, but continues to help LOVE as a youth worker.

He says without the links program, people who could have benefited might end up making bad choices.

"People are going to find a way to make money and make their next step ... that's going to lead to other things like people getting involved in crime and doing things that they might not necessary want to do but they have to, to make rent, to feed their family, to do things like that," he said.

Hopefuls turned down

Nathan Dodsworth, 21,  had been hoping he'd be able to enter the jobs program. He's been involved with other LOVE programs for nine years and says the group has helped him grow up and become a better person.

Dodsworth never finished high school and says he's always had challenges holding down jobs.

"I have a daughter now, and not being employed is a really difficult time," he said.

Dodsworth is handing out his resume wherever he can. He gets odd jobs, but never has enough money to make a difference.

He was deeply disappointed when he heard the links program is ending.

"The extra money in my pocket is now not there. And the job experience, and the experience meeting all these new people, and new friendships, and new connections to things I want to do in the future are gone," he said.

Though Dodsworth has managed to stay positive, he knows others who have fallen into negative situations.

"I know a couple of people who are in places where they definitely don't want to be in. If they had [the Links Employability Program] as a resource, then they definitely could have avoided really crappy places where they are now. Addictions, criminal history, being homeless, being in jail," he said.

"Now that this program is no longer active, they don't have that tool that they could use ... when they get out [of jail], or when they get better, or when they get themselves back up on their feet."