Investment in Durham youth entrepreneurs pays dividends
June 14, 2018
Having plans is one thing, but knowing how to accomplish them can be complex and daunting.
Daniel Davis faced that dilemma when his mother left a newspaper advertisement on his bed last December offering young people in Durham entrepreneurial training to become their own bosses.
The federal government provided the Family Life Centre (FLC) in Pickering with $390,000 in funding to run a five-month training program for youths in the community.
Davis didn’t pay much attention to the ad at first, thinking it would interfere with his plans.
Invited to do a photo shoot at a Juno Award party in Ottawa in March 2017, he was counting on using that exposure to launch his photography business.
“I decided I would give the program a try, but it was my intention to leave after the first week,” he admitted.
The 22-week program culminated on May 17 with a graduation ceremony that included Davis who migrated from Jamaica in 1997 and completed high school at St. Mary Catholic Secondary in Pickering
“I am so glad I made it through to the end,” Davis said. “I was able to identify my problem which was a lack of self-confidence.”
Judging by his presentation at the graduation ceremony, the young man has successfully crossed that hurdle as he spoke clearly for nearly five minutes without notes about the program that provides fundamental entrepreneurial skills to aspiring and emerging business people.
Straight out of high school, Davis obtained a job with Zellers in the electronics department.
“Even though I was the department lead, I didn’t have fun working there for three years and I vowed that I would never work for anyone again after the company closed,” he pointed out. “When my mom left that ad on my bed, little did she know that the message was that I should get off my butt and get serious about what I want to do. I am glad I found this program and there’s no turning back.”
Davis’ business, ‘Viewtacular’, specializes in event photography and branding.
Of the 15 youths that started the program, 14 graduated.
The first cohort spent six hours a day from Monday to Friday in a classroom setting acquiring training from successful and qualified entrepreneurs.
They were paid $15 an hour.
“I believe that the clarity and knowledge that our speakers brought to the table will stick with us for a very long time,” said Johanna West. “The reason I so loved the way our program played out is because we didn’t just discuss the dry technical aspects of owning and running your own company. We learned about connecting with people, public speaking and managing our emotions.”
Being in a room with a variety of cultures and world views also appealed to West.
“That meant we engaged in more than just conversations about business,” she said. “There were open discussions and challenging ideas. We talked about ethics values, goal-setting and learning styles. These were not just to be applied to our businesses, but to our lives.”
West’s company, ‘The Athanaeum’, offers a quality space for persons to gather for networking, business, leisure and education.
“I want it to be a working space, event hub and creative venue,” she added. “But mostly, I want to build a community of people who feel inter-connected. It is an evolving concept.”
Coming into the program, Keith Mayhew-Hammond was unsure how he would be treated.
He has Asperger syndrome which is an autism spectrum disorder.
“I was nervous because I thought I might be treated as a helpless child or no different than anyone else,” noted Mayhew-Hammond who runs ‘Atypical Keith’ that provides products for persons facing barriers, including autism.
To his delight, he was readily accepted by his peers and the facilitators.
“They welcomed the things that make me different and treated me with great respect,” Mayhew-Hammond said. “I appreciated that and the fact that the program dedicated a huge amount of time to self-development.”
Pickering-Uxbridge Member of Parliament Jennifer O’Connell was the graduation ceremony’s keynote speaker.
Impressed with the confident manner in which Davis, West and Mayhew-Hammond articulated their program experience, she concluded that the investment has paid handsome dividends.
“One of the things that inspired me to run federally is the high youth unemployment rate in the region,” said O’Connell. “As a member of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, we spend a lot of time talking about how do we grow the economy and how do we create jobs for young people. It’s obvious that the investment made in this program is huge and the payback is beyond inspiring.”
The FLC is an arm of the Family Worship Centre founded by Guyanese immigrant Joseph Fisher.
For a decade up until 2015, the FLC ran a life skills link employment program – supported by the federal government – that helped new immigrants and young unemployed Canadians secure useful career information, develop marketable skills, find suitable jobs and remain employed.
Boasting an 80 per cent success rate, the program produced graduates who went on to pursue post-second education and are employed.
“For 10 years, we were happy to prepare young people to work for other people,” said Fisher. “Why not prepare them to work for themselves?”
He encouraged the graduates to use the training to build and maintain their businesses.
“You have the tools,” Fisher pointed out. “It’s now up to you to apply them. Along the way you may have to make some tough decisions like shedding friends who may be obstacles. Even though that may be hard, you will have to do what you have to do to be successful.”
Katherina Harripersaud, who completed the life skills link employment program in 2009, attended the graduation ceremony.
The single mother of a nine-year-old daughter graduated in April from Durham College’s two-year paralegal program and will pursue a law degree at York University next year.
“There are many things in life that don’t go the way you plan or expect them to go,” she told the graduates. “You will experience highs and lows. Your true success will be defined by how you handle these situations.”
She enrolled in the program shortly after returning from the United States with a young child.
“I wanted to be a dancer and entertainer,” said Harripersaud who intends to practice corporate and family law. “After the birth of my daughter, I wanted more for myself and I wanted to pursue a profession so that she could be proud of me. The Family Life Centre provided me with that opportunity and I am grateful for that.”
The other graduates were Naomi Campbell, Nicholas Campbell, Takiyah Duggan, Shanice Guy, Jessica Khalaf, Jamie McDevitt, Ahmed Nazzal, Gabrielle Rhodius, Shantai Savory, Hashmathali Arshad and Patrick Gozdzick.
Leyland Gudge is the program consultant while Bobby Daniels and Geraldine Wade are the facilitators.