Nova Scotia

How a skills program is changing lives for young people in Nova Scotia

A Wolfville woman who described her life as filled with "despair" just three months ago has praised a new government-funded pilot project for a new outlook on life.

$1M pilot project available to people ages 18-26 in Kentville, Halifax

Emily Steen is shown at the Edge office in Kentville. She designed and painted the mural behind her. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Just three months ago, Emily Steen said she felt "hopeless" and her days were filled with "despair."

"I was very depressed," she said. "Like I'd never find a job again.

"I felt like no matter what I did I'd get rejected."

But the 25-year-old Wolfville woman, who has relied on income assistance to survive for the past four years, has a new part-time job, and her outlook on life is no longer bleak.

She credits a pilot project called Edge, which is funded by the Nova Scotia government.

It's a peer support and life-skills program available to Nova Scotians who are 18 to 26 and receiving either income assistance or employment support. There are two projects, one in Kentville and the other in Halifax.

Steen said the program gave her new friends, skills and the staff helped her regain her confidence.

"Having people who barely know me believe in me so strongly, it really helped my brain go, 'Hey, maybe I am worth working on, maybe I am worth hiring,'" she said.

Much bigger goal

Steen now has her sights on a much bigger goal than just simply getting a job.

"They gave me the encouragement I needed to awaken a long-dead dream," she said. "I'm slowly putting together the pieces to start my own plus-size clothing line and subsequent store to sell them at."

Emerson Mabe, left, and Emily Steen are part of a provincial pilot project to help young people improve their skills. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Meantime, she's looking forward to the day she no longer relies on government help to pay the bills.

"It'll be nice to be back to being able to stand on my own two feet again," said Steen. "Because it's been awhile and there's really no way to describe the level of confidence that it gives you to be able to say I can cover my rent, I can cover my bills.

"I can have food in the cupboards the whole month. I can have quarters to do my laundry so I don't have to hand-wash stuff in my bathroom sink."

The Nova Scotia government is putting $1 million toward the program, which pays for staff, training programs, work clothes or supplies and food. It also provides a salary subsidy equivalent to minimum wage to employers who agree to give participants a three-month work term.

The plan is to evaluate the program once the two organizations who are running it have completed the year-long pilot project next October.

Although skeptical going into the program, Steen is now a believer. "Definitely reach out, take the step because it's worth it."

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About the Author

Jean Laroche

Reporter

Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.

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