Phoenix Youth 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 exposure to job opportunities for youth. Hall says it can be a life-changing experience for them, 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 offers 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.
“Phoenix has helped me with housing, food and, most importantly, they helped me find stable work so I can provide for myself,” says Morgan, a former Phoenix youth. “I have a career, an apartment, a car and an education. The possibilities are now endless.”
Hall says it all comes down to using a narrative approach: understanding the person and what they want for their lives by truly listening and 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 experts 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 through Phoenix’s 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.”
At just 17, Jessica Blaikie was living in a women’s shelter and struggling with mental health challenges. She joined a Phoenix program on resume development and job interview skills at the Phoenix Learning and Employment Centre, and says that small decision ended up changing the course of her life.
She began participating in more of their programs, and moved into Phoenix House at 18 years old. Blaikie still marvels at how her marks shot up from 60s and 70s, to all 90s — high enough to see her graduate from high school with honours.
“They helped me get my marks up by providing tutors, and they pushed me to be the best person I could be,” says Blaikie. “They were amazing.”
Before living at Phoenix House, Blaikie admits she’d been kicked out of every other group home or shelter she’d tried living in — not because she was a troublemaker, but because of complicated mental health issues.
“I had it stuck in my head that everybody was going to toss me aside, but Phoenix never did that,” says Blaikie. “No matter how much I pushed or struggled, they gave me chance after chance to show me they cared about me.”
Even when she moved out of Phoenix House and into her college dorm in Truro, she remembers they still called regularly to check in. When she was in the hospital at one point, Phoenix staffers drove up to visit and brought her chocolates.
“Phoenix does one thing that no other group does that I’m aware of, and that’s show the kids that they’re family,” says Blaikie. “Just because you ‘age out’ and move on doesn’t mean they forget about you.”
Now 31, Blaikie works as a unit aid in the IWK Health Centre’s neonatal intensive care unit. She’s also studying at NSCC to become an LPN (licensed practical nurse). She doesn’t believe she’d have built this positive new life without the help of Phoenix—in fact, she doesn’t believe she’d have a life at all.
“If it wasn’t for Phoenix workers showing me that they cared, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here today,” says Blaikie.
She proudly speaks out about her past to remind people of the difference Phoenix Youth Programs is making in the lives of so many young Nova Scotians.
“Phoenix youth are kids who need a little more understanding,” says Blaikie. “Phoenix is about supporting kids who may not have grown up with supportive, caring, compassionate adults in their lives or the resources other youth have. It’s about helping youth believe in themselves and achieve their goals.”