Catching a glimpse of pregnant teenager Christina Simms for the first time this summer brought back memories for youth worker Nadia Dalchand.
Just 16 years old when her first child was born in 1994, Dalchand saw herself reflected in 17-year-old Simms who was lost and seeking help when she entered the Tropicana Community Services-administered Summer Jobs for Youth program.
At the time, Dalchand enlisted in Rosalie Hall which provides a comprehensive range of early intervention, prevention and treatment services meeting the needs of young families in Scarborough and the rest of the Greater Toronto Area. There, she received counseling and her high schools credits that enabled her to attend university and graduate.
The mother of two – she also has a five-year-old – is now an elementary teacher with the Toronto Catholic District School Board.
“I have been where Christina is so I know what she’s going through,” said Dalchand. “She was about six months pregnant when she came to us, yet she was in denial. I insisted that she did the pregnancy test and she came back to me a couple days after to say it was positive.
“Christina was very nervous. She had not visited a doctor during her pregnancy, so I made an appointment for her with my physician who arranged for an ultrasound. Hearing the baby’s heartbeat was my best experience this summer.”
With a baby boy on the horizon and scared to face her family, Dalchand arranged for Simms to enroll in Rosalie Hall.
“She knows this is just the beginning and there is a lot of responsibility ahead for her,” Dalchand said. “I think she realizes she’s so much bigger than what happened to her at that moment…I have done well for myself and my daughter is a straight “A” and well-rounded student. She’s my shining star and it could be the same for Christina. I plan to be there for her all the way and be a lifelong friend.”
A talented artist and singer, Simms plans to return to high school next year.
“I am so glad that I was accepted into this summer program and so happy to have met Nadia who has been there all the way for me with support,” said the Sir Robert Borden Business & Technical Institute student. “I have learned what it means to have self-esteem and to be caring.”
Simms was among 1,113 young people who completed the summer program for young people in the 13 designated priority neighbourhoods. The Summer Jobs for Youth program is part of the Ontario government’s Youth Opportunities Strategy created under Mary Anne Chambers’ watch when she was Minister of Children & Youth Services to enable young people in underserved communities to access employment, programs and services that can help them achieve their potential.
A total of 3,482 young people applied for this year’s program that involved 330 employers. They earned an hourly wage of $10.25.
It was the first summer job for most of the youth, including RH King Academy student Yusuf Ahmed.
“I learned what it means to be responsible and also what to do when opportunity knocks,” he said. “If I was not in the program, I would have hung around with friends or possibly go to Vancouver to visit family members.”
Scarborough Academy of Technological, Environmental and Computer Education Grade 12 student, Tre Dempsey, admitted he would have been out partying or playing video games if he was not in the program.
“The experience has taught me things like discipline, honesty and integrity and also a sense of what it is to be a productive citizen,” said the aspiring psychologist.
The Ontario government invested $24 million in this summer’s youth employment program that attracted nearly 4,600 young people from 32 priority communities across Ontario.