Feds throw Maple Ridge life skills program a lifeline

Pathfinder Society helps those in tough times find their way through life

Vashon Omeasoo wants to go to SFU and says it would be interesting to visit North Korea. MP Randy Kamp and Pathfinder Youth Society president Orville Lee were at announcement of $410

Vashon Omeasoo wants to go to SFU and says it would be interesting to visit North Korea. MP Randy Kamp and Pathfinder Youth Society president Orville Lee were at announcement of $410

Some people may dream about a holiday in Hawaii, maybe the Caribbean.

Not Vashon Omeasoo however.

It’s the northern half of the Korean peninsula that intrigues him, North Korea, the country whose Stalinist isolation has almost made it a place that time forgot.

“I’m extremely interested in the fact that we don’t know much about that country. The one forbidden country in the world.”

One day, he says, he’d like to save up and visit, adding he’s seen guided tours advertised online.

Omeasoo, 19, is one of the dozen kids enrolled in the working together program offered by the Pathfinder Youth Centre Society building on Stewart Crescent in Maple Meadows Business Park.

It’s a six-month program designed to help youth aged 15 to 30 figure out what they want to do with their lives.

By tackling team projects, learning communication skills, and taking job-specific courses such as FoodSafe, Serving it Right, first aid, Worldhost, courses, students get a chance to figure out who they are and where they fit in the big world. With some life skills figured out, the skills needed to find and keep a job fall more easily into place. Shadowing people who do what they think are dream jobs is another way of getting a dose of reality that can lead to realistic job choices.

For Omeasoo, the program has allowed him to figure out his immediate future. It’s given him “the spark to find the will to go to SFU.”

Until he joined the program, he had trouble finding work and had no motivation to do anything.

Now, he’s heading into a pre-admission program at SFU that will lead to studies in the health-care field, either in pharmacy or addictions counselling.

“I used to isolate myself and keep away from people and this has helped me reconnect with what I’ve lost.” He figures his classmates will become lifelong friends.

“I’m glad I’m in this program. I’m quite happy with it. Things are changing.”

Omeasoo and his classmates, at least will be able to finish the six-month course thanks to $410,000 from the federal government’s Skills Link program, part of the Youth Employment Strategy.

The money was announced Wednesday by Maple Ridge MP Randy Kamp.

The money though will last only a year, for two intakes of a dozen kids each, after which administrators again will have to apply again to keep the program alive.

Pathfinder executive-director Ruth Lee says the Pathfinder Society has been operating for eight years, with two other programs in Surrey.

It’s funded 95 per cent by the federal Human Resources and Skills Development ministry and relies on Vancity credit union for most of the rest.

But federal government cuts have hurt such efforts and eliminated one of the Surrey programs.

Just recently, in March, Pathfinder closed down for two weeks because it ran out of money. “We’re just so grateful now because we have a wait list of 100 kids,” Lee said.

Administrative manager Alana Jackson said the program helps people believe in themselves. “If you don’t have self confidence, you don’t think you can do anything.”

To get accepted, students who can come from any background or educational level, have to go through four interviews.

If they show up for those, it’s a good sign they’re serious about the program. Applicants also must have some barrier to getting a job, such as poverty, maybe dyslexia, lack of self-confidence, mental health, or addiction issues, or being raised in such an environment.

For Lia Beaudoin, 24, and a mom of two, the program’s first few weeks have already helped.

She used to work at a lot of physical, short-term jobs.

“It’s definitely a good start when you don’t know where you’re going.

“I came out of my shell more. Usually, I’m a pretty shy person. I’m more willing to talk now.”


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