PEI

How a work placement program is giving P.E.I. youth in recovery new hope

The P.E.I. Reach Foundation is having success with a new program that gives youth recovering from addiction and mental-health issues a pathway back into daily life.

Program also offers life skills and classroom training to help youth return to work or school

Amanda Beazley and Michaela Walsh prepare a craft together at the Boys & Girls Club of Charlottetown. Walsh now has a full-time job after doing a four-week placement with the club. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

The P.E.I. Reach Foundation is having success with a new program that gives youth recovering from addiction and mental-health issues a pathway back into daily life. 

The new program is called Expanding your Reach and includes 12 weeks of life skills and classroom training, followed by a four-week work placement. 

"It's really the perfect transition between treatment and recovery and back into the workforce," said Michaela Walsh.

"It's the best possible thing I could have done for my recovery."

Walsh, 24, came to the Reach Foundation after completing the province's Strength program, helping her deal with addiction and mental illness.

"It's hard when you're in recovery and in treatment, you typically miss a lot of work or aren't working at all," Walsh said. 

"You basically have to re-learn how to live."

Walsh, 24, came to the Reach Foundation after completing the province's Strength program, helping her deal with addiction and mental illness. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

After 12 weeks at Reach, Walsh went to her chosen job placement, at the Boys & Girls Club of Charlottetown.

"Working with kids is almost therapeutic for me and it definitely keeps me going," Walsh said. 

"Kids give me my energy, give me my love for life so I've always known I wanted to work with kids."

'Nothing but supportive'

Walsh says staff at the Boys & Girls Club instantly made her feel welcome.

"They all know my story, they all know where I'm coming from, from the Reach Foundation," Walsh said. 

"They know I'm in recovery and they've been nothing but supportive of me."

Best of all, she says, she is now part of the staff.

"To be offered a job here afterwards was the greatest," Walsh said.

Walsh's mother, Doreen, says the experience at Reach has given her daughter self-esteem. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

Walsh's mother, Doreen, says the experience at Reach has changed her daughter.

"She didn't have the self-esteem, she didn't think she was good enough," Walsh said.

"The Reach program made her realize who she was and that she was good enough."

Walsh says she hopes to go back to school in the fall to take training to become a youth worker. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

The executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Charlottetown says she had absolutely no hesitation about having Walsh do a job placement.

"Our club is always looking for ways to empower youth so this made perfect sense," said Amanda Beazley.

"We saw what a great fit she was for our club and so we offered a permanent job with us."

Exceeded expectations

Chris Craig says the Expanding your Reach program has far exceeded expectations. 

"Most have had serious battles with addiction and mental health and in most cases both," Craig said.

"Some have been living on the street, some have been hospitalized because of overdoses, so a lot of them came from very dark places."

Participants gain confidence from being part of the social enterprise projects at Reach, making soap and wood products, that are then sold to help fund the program. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Craig says the participants gain confidence from being part of the social enterprise projects at Reach, making soap and wood products.

"Many haven't worked consistently in quite a long time, many holes in the resume," Craig said.

"To come in and gain the confidence that they can go to work day after day, they can get up out of bed and look forward to something."

Half days in the classroom help participants who are anxious about returning to school after time away. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Craig says five of six participants in the first group went on to full-time employment after their work placements.

"They were ecstatic. They couldn't believe it, really."

Craig says the social enterprise projects like woodworking give participants something they can get up out of bed and look forward to. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Michaela Walsh hopes to go back to school to train as a youth worker in the fall, something she never imagined for herself, even six months ago.

"It's a really dark place, you don't feel good about yourself, you don't really see a future," Walsh said.

"I didn't expect myself to be this happy and have this much love for life, honestly. I didn't think I would ever have that back and now I do, so it feels amazing."

More P.E.I. news

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog. Nancy.Russell@cbc.ca

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