Transitions, Employment, and Community: Connecting with the Vancouver School Board

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Transitioning from a youth to an adult can be a tricky time of life for people receiving support services. Often, sights are set on preparing youth for the work force and learning new skills for navigating life after high school. While these efforts are very important, one facet of this complex time is often overlooked: maintaining a community. Once high school is over, some people have a difficult time keeping in touch with friends and retaining an active social life. These things are easier to come by in the predictable environment offered by the school system. In response to this need for maintaining healthy communities around one-self, Community Connectors were included for the first time in a transition program through the Vancouver School Board in the 2016/2017 school year.

This past June, twelve youth from Vancouver completed the first Gateway to Employment program (GTE). This ten-month long transition program is an amalgamation of employment placement, job training, recreational activities, and community connecting. While students spent time each week with job training and placements, they also had time to intentionally work towards building connections with their communities and friends along-side BCC Community Connectors. The connections that these youths explored took on a variety of forms such as volunteering, checking out drop-in games groups, instigating new friendships, and taking charge of their own schedules outside of a school setting.

It was clear from the beginning that community connecting with these students would be both diverse and challenging. Generally, the process of community connecting is not done over any fixed period of time, rather, the time-frame varies person to person depending on their connecting journey. Within the span of the GTE, however, Community connectors were only connecting with students until the program ended at the end of June. Another challenge was trying to find time to connect where the youth had free time away from classes and their new jobs (not to mention some much needed down-time). These were some busy people moving through their final year of high school, taking on new responsibilities, changing the rhythms of their once predictable school-based schedules. At times, it seemed that community connecting was just another task added to their growing list of things to do. However, as the year went on, many of the GTE students began to realize how connecting with communities added to a growing sense of independence.

An example of a GTE student who really jumped into community connecting with a taste for becoming more independent was Casey. At the beginning of the school year, Casey gained employment through the GTE and began to work part-time. He also had a few classes at school to complete throughout the year. After a few months, Casey seemed to settle into his new schedule. During this time, he expressed a growing interest in trying new things with people as well as learning more about cooking and eating healthy food (and what better way to connect with people than over a good meal?). Throughout the school-year, Casey had tried many food-related Kudoz experiences, joined a community cooking class, and began making plans with other GTE students to hang out during his free time. By the time GTE had wrapped up at the end of the school year, Casey had landed his desired job working at grocery store. He had also begun to reach out to those he was developing friendships with through GTE. When asked about what he learned about friendship after high-school Casey replied “friendships need more work”, he went on to stress the importance of making plans with people if you want to see them.

As of the end of June, the first GTE cohort has finished their program. Now, a new group of ten transitioning students is beginning the program. This time, these youths will begin community connecting in the summer, before the start of the next school-year, to add some much needed time to the process. This new GTE cohort will be on their connecting journey until the end of their program in June of 2018. We are looking forward to the path ahead with these new students and can’t wait to hear what connections occur along the way.

Contributed By: Matt Carpenter