Breaking Down Barriers Through Collaboration

In November, 2017, the Business Voice wanted to hear about how we at Phoenix collaborate with youth. We provided one example of many - how we work with youth in their pursuit of education and employment. The article is written below

Engagement key to Phoenix’s youth-focused approach

By Heather Laura Clarke

Phoenix Youth Programs is reaching out to the local business community – perhaps for an unexpected reason.

They’re looking for jobs.

While Phoenix may be best known for its residential programs and drop-in centre, they’re also supporting  young people who are not in crisis, but working against significant barriers to get on a career track.

“Youth are the future of this province, and they all deserve opportunities – regardless of their backgrounds,” says Christine Hall, Director of Community Programs at Phoenix.

Phoenix works with at least 50 employers annually to provide work placements and job experience opportunities for youth. Hall says it can be a life-changing move for the youth, and also beneficial for the company.

“When a business owner gives them an opportunity, the level of commitment is just unbelievable. It’s so lovely to see those relationships develop,” says Hall. “Businesses can end up with a loyal, lifelong employee.”

Phoenix is celebrating its 30th year in 2017, having expanded from one location to 10 locations since 1987 -- and offering a range of programs that support more than 1,000 youth each year. Some programs help youth manage their immediate needs, like housing, while others are aimed at preventing issues that can cause youth to end up in crisis, such as the Phoenix Youth and Family Therapy Program.

Regardless of the program or service, engagement is at the core of everything they do. It’s how they support a 16-year-old experiencing homelessness, and how they help a frustrated 20-year-old break the cycle of poverty.

Hall says it all comes down to using a narrative approach: understanding the person and what they want for their lives by truly listening, honouring what the person has to say and responding effectively.

“You may not always agree, but there can be massive progress when you allow that type of engagement process to happen,” says Hall. “You’re creating a safe environment and a positive relationship – offering up the opportunity for experiences and development.”

Along with four residential programs, ranging from emergency shelter to independence-building housing options, they operate Phoenix Centre for Youth – a weekday drop-in facility where youth can pick up toiletries, have a meal, do a load of laundry or chat with a case manager. These case workers help youth navigate their next steps, regardless of why they’ve entered the centre.

“It’s a collaborative effort with the youth, because they are the expert of their own lives -- and an agent of their own development,” explains Hall. “We work with them, not ‘at’ them. They’re very much involved, and there’s no judgment here.”

“We all have our path in life, and our experiences. There’s acceptance and belonging regardless of what’s happened in the past.”

She says youth may be fearful and suspicious of authority figures, especially if they’ve had experience in rigid, prescriptive systems. That’s where trust comes into play, as they learn to build positive relationships with adults.

“We don’t tell them what to do, or what not to do,” says Hall. “We acknowledge that there are barriers that exist in their lives, and we work with them to try to eradicate those barriers both at through Phoenix range of services and in collaboration with partners.”

Those barriers might include family conflict, unstable living conditions, poverty, lack of access to education, and the struggle to find employment.

“They might have struggled with schoolwork and had individual needs that weren’t being met,” adds Hall.

They’ve helped youth who have dropped out of high school by supporting them to get their GED and exploring career options. This year alone, Phoenix assisted 24 youth in securing financial resources -- private scholarships and government aid -- to enter post-secondary education.

Hall says there’s nothing like the feeling of placing a youth in a job that benefits everyone. She is hopeful Phoenix can secure more business partnerships and get more youth into positions where they can build experience and feel valued.

“Tapping into the talents and strengths of youth – all youth – is essential to the prosperity of our province. The business community plays a huge role in helping youth develop and grow and reach a level of independence where they’re able to participate fully and wholly in the community,” says Hall.

“We know it takes energy and resources to get partnerships going, but they’re so worthwhile. We can’t stress enough how important they are to the work we do.”