Wendy Beckles and her Leadership, Empowerment, Achievement and Determination (LEAD) co-founders were eager to roll out their new program but were devastated when just one student showed up the first day for the initiative conceived to help young people make the seamless transition from high school to tertiary level education.
There was, however, a reason for the almost no-show.
By using the words “at-risk” in their program mandate, they had unknowingly erected a barrier between the organization and the youth they were attempting to reach.
“We learned that the term ‘at-risk’ was very subjective and that ‘under-served’ provided a better picture of the reality facing the young people we were trying to get to,” Beckles recalled at the fifth annual graduation last Saturday at Kensington Health Care Centre.
“One student bluntly told me life is already tough and she didn’t need to be further labelled by the program as an ‘at-risk youth’. She said everyone is at-risk in some way and she was proud of who she is.”
Beckles and fellow co-founders, Dr. Juliet Daniel, Nicole Baxter and Catherine Bruce, quickly adjusted the program’s wording to reflect the students’ needs and were rewarded for their efforts with 12 participants two weeks later.
“What we were hearing revolutionized our thinking and approach and we had to take a step back,” said Beckles, a certified general accountant and chief financial officer at the Kensington Health Care Centre. “We re-wrote the entire program to focus not on what we thought we would do for the students because we thought they needed it, but more on working individually with each student to help them discover themselves, assess where they are in life and then chart their own way to success.
“Instead of giving them a fish for a quick meal, we endeavoured to teach our students how to fish for themselves by giving them the tools necessary to be able to provide for themselves and in turn lead others to do the same.”
The modular-based, 10-week program is designed for Grade 11 and 12 students who are considering post-secondary education options and employment opportunities.
“At LEAD, without fear of judgment, we build hope in our students by telling them that getting to know themselves is the first step to planning for their success,” Beckles added. “If we can teach our youths to build strength of character and set goals for themselves that give them a sense of purpose, we can deter them from turning to destructive influences and depending on others to provide them with a false sense of worth. When they can look at themselves in the mirror and see a leader and not just a follower, we have succeeded.”
A total of 21 young graduates were presented with certificates.
Tevin Glean, 20, said the program provided him with hope and direction.
“I was at a crossroads and did not know where to go after I graduated from Central Technical School,” said Glean, the 2008 Applause Institute of Canada’s Escort of the Year. “Through this program, I have learned things that I can apply in and out of the classroom and I know where I want to go. I know there are a lot of young people like me who are in the same situation I was before entering this program and all they need is for someone to point them down the right path.”
Glean enters George Brown College’s Social Services Worker Program next semester.
“I want to help people in the same way that people like Wendy Beckles helped me,” he said.
Chloe Wilson was introduced to the program during a pizza lunch her high school librarian organized for some students to meet Beckles.
“To be honest, the only reason I showed up was for a free lunch. But after hearing Mrs. Beckles talk about the program and its benefits, I became very interested,” said the Central Commerce Collegiate Institute graduate. “I had a lot of insecurities and self-doubt and my self-esteem and self-confidence were very low. I also grew up with my mom and sister, so not having a positive male figure in my life affected me. This program has taught me how to interact with males and also how to be a strong and independent woman.”
Wilson has been accepted into Humber College next semester to study Creative Advertising.
“Had it not being for the LEAD initiative which places an emphasis on post-secondary education, I don’t think I would have had the strength to pursue that on my own,” she added.
In an inspirational address, businessman and former Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario leader, John Tory, congratulated the graduates and encouraged them to consider running for public office.
“That’s the place you can most influence change,” he advised the young people.
The rest of the graduates were Alan Ames, Mailon Balasubramaniam, Ebyan Bihi, Jonmarri Cabudoy, Kezia De La Cruz, Ozzel Green, Rahma Hagi, Saberah Haider, Faduma Hassan, Ebtihal Ibrahim, Umar Khan, Fatou Kijera, Thomas Mboto, Lynn Mohamed, Asha Muse, Marie Salvatierra, Shafi Sultan and Rana and Reem Soliman.
By RON FANFAIR