Pickering-area program gives newcomers tools to succeed



When Trinidadian Rodney Bridgelal made the bold decision to leave his parents and six siblings behind and come to Canada to start a new life, the only person he was counting on for support at the time was a cousin of his mother who lived in the Greater Toronto Area.

Or so he thought.

Less than two weeks here, the relative dumped the 18-year-old newcomer. However, he was rescued by a workmate who provided him with temporary accommodation.

“Things did not work out with my family here,” is all that he would say of the brief reunion.

The fact that Bridgelal obtained employment shortly after his arrival and had gained a stranger’s trust in a very short period is testament to his strong will to succeed and his genuine likability.

He was one of 12 young people who successfully completed the federally-funded six-month Skills Link Employment program which helps immigrants and young unemployed Canadians obtain useful career information, develop skills, find suitable jobs and remain employed.

The Durham-based Family Life Community Resource Centre established the program six years ago.

“When Rodney came to us, he was a bit of a challenge,” said program coordinator Geraldine Brown. “His education was equivalent to an elementary school student.

“Despite the obstacles, he was very humble and prepared to work hard to overcome his difficulties.”

As part of the program, participants are matched with Durham-area employers. Two weeks into his placement with Canadian fast food restaurant chain Mary Brown’s in Pickering, Bridgelal was hired full-time and he’s currently enrolled in the company’s managers’ training program. He also works full-time at Tim Horton’s.

“I came to Canada to better myself and provide for my family back home,” said Bridgelal, who enjoys cooking and has been living on his own in a basement apartment for the past two years. “I was prepared to do whatever I had to do to achieve my goals. I knew I had many limitations and I have worked hard to overcome them.

“The hurdles that I faced were many and I had several options, but giving up and returning to Trinidad & Tobago was not one of them.”

Bridgelal often sends money and clothes for his family who he has not seen since leaving the twin-island republic in September 2008.

Eric Boateng is thankful that his sister, Comfort Conadu, introduced him to the program.

“I was a few credits short of completing the requirements needed to enter a post-secondary institution to pursue pharmacology studies,” he said. “I needed some direction and I have found that through this program, which has offered me more than educational tools. I have also learned valuable life skills.”

Boateng and Conadu migrated to Canada from Ghana in 2007 and relocated to the United States a year later where they completed high school before returning here in June 2010. Conadu, who joined the program a few weeks before her brother, aspires to be a registered nurse.

Single father Troy Allen said the program has inspired him to enroll in college to train as a motorcycle technician while Chantelle Washington is rejuvenated.

“Six months ago, I was unhappy, miserable and depressed,” said the aspiring electrician. “I was also diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy (a form of facial paralysis). Through this wonderful program, I found out who I am, where I want to go and how to deal with barriers I will face. My life is much better now than it was a year ago.”

In the keynote address at last Friday’s graduation ceremony, rookie Member of Parliament, Chris Alexander, congratulated the successful participants and told them they should count themselves lucky and fortunate to be introduced to the initiative.

Alexander was Canada’s first resident ambassador in Kabul, Afghanistan and he also served as one of two deputy special representatives at the United Nations Assistance Mission there.

“Even in the war zone, there is opportunity for those who are illiterate and had never gone to school,” he said. “That risk is at the high end of the spectrum compared with the ones you face, which are big for you, personally. But let’s not lose our perspective about what kind of country we have here, the kind of potential you have and the resources that are available in the program and well beyond it to make sure that the plans and goals you have are ones that you reach and exceed.

“We are extremely proud of you and the courage it took for you to get on board and stay on board. We are counting on you to take the experience you have gained to other young people.”

New Pickering-Scarborough East MPP, Tracy MacCharles, and longtime program supporter, Pickering’s mayor, David Ryan, also attended the graduation.

“It’s just wonderful to come here and hear the success stories year after year,” said Ryan.

The program, which boasts an 80 per cent success rate, has helped turn around the lives of many young people.

Word of Truth Christian Centre’s founder, Bishop Joseph Fisher, was instrumental in the creation of the Family Life Community Resource Centre that also runs a Saturday morning mentoring program for Grades 1-12 students.

The church building is currently undergoing an expansion and Fisher, who said the larger space will enable the centre to operate an after-school drop-in centre and a fitness facility, is appealing to all three levels of government for financial assistance to help complete the renovation.

“The work we do is essentially to help government run communities,” he said. “We are good people and we believe we are doing good work and making an invaluable contribution in the community.”

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