Ten at-risk youth participated in the first round of the We Are The Change program in their workshop in Brockville Photo provided by the Employment and Education Centre

The Employment and Education Centre in Brockville is about to finish the first round of a unique program that combines employment skills with building awareness for affordable housing.

The We Are The Change program gives Leeds and Grenville, at-risk youth from 15-30, the opportunity to gain useful skills in the trades by building a tiny house. The program includes 18 weeks of in-class and hands-on construction experience, and another 12 weeks of placement with a company in the trades. Participants are paid minimum wage for the instruction portion of the program, and a wage of $17.21 during their placement. Finished tiny homes are donated to partner community organizations, like Habitat for Humanity within Leeds and Grenville to provide an affordable housing option to those in need.

Program coordinator, Heather Brisebois says she is thrilled with the success of the first round of the program which began in September 2020. She was amazed at how well the group of 10 at-risk youth worked together over the 18 weeks, both in class and while building the tiny home. It was also great to see how much confidence each of the participants built up over the course of the program, fostering their ability to successfully navigate the world of employment. “I cannot articulate anywhere near as well as I wish I could about just seeing their confidence grow,” she says. “It’s pretty amazing to see.”

Heather says that the program is unique in that participants not only gain valuable employment skills and experience, but they are also contributing to one of the solutions for the affordable housing shortage in Leeds and Grenville. “Tiny homes really are the way of offering more affordable housing. We’re in a housing crisis and this could be a solution, so it’s really to bring awareness to that being an option for people.”

Participants are now completing their placements and 80% of them have secured employment. Heather is in the process of selecting the next 10 students who will start on April 26. She says they have had a lot of interest in the program, with 45 potential candidates for the next round. “It’s really hard because, typically, everyone that you meet would be eligible. So, we actually have a matrix that we follow so that everyone has a fair shot at the program. It’s also based on their vulnerability, because it is a program for vulnerable youth.”

The Employment and Education Centre has received funding from the federal government for three rounds of the program. Overall, the COVID-19 pandemic has not affected the effectiveness of the program, as they have been able to have proper protocols in place and modify some of their programming. For example, instead of the planned tour, where participants would travel around the County to talk about their experience and the importance of affordable housing, they created a nineteen-minute documentary about the program which can be found on the Employment and Education Centre website.

Applications for the program are still open, and interested youth can contact Heather at [email protected] or 613-498-2111 ext. 369. They are also always looking for donations of good-quality gently-used tools, and monetary donations to the centre will also go directly towards supporting the youth in the program. “If there are employers that are interested in hiring graduates from the program, or even if they have expertise and they wanted to volunteer and offer their expertise, we could have conversations around that piece as well,” Heather says.

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