The choices people make often determine their life’s direction. By his own admission, Jason Cromwell made very bad choices by skipping school and hanging out with the wrong crowd. Those indiscretions often landed him in trouble with the police.
When his mother encouraged him to enroll in the Family Life Centre Skills Link Employment program to try to turn his life around, he listened and is very appreciative for her advice. That was a good choice.
The teenager was among 11 graduates of the six-month program that helps immigrants and young unemployed Canadian youth obtain useful career information, develop skills, find suitable jobs and remain employed. Boasting an 80 per cent success rate, the initiative has helped turn around the lives of many young people.
“I learned a lot about myself during the time I was in the program,” said Cromwell, who aspires to own an electrical business. “I am a better person now and I know what I want to do with my life. I also feel good about myself which is something I could not have said six months ago.”
As part of the program, participants are matched with Durham-area employers.
Cromwell, who shared the Master of Ceremony duties with Brittney Hercules at last week’s graduation, spent six weeks employed with Ken Co’s Car Care Centre.
“There was one situation in the beginning where Jason was sent home because he was not following workplace rules,” said owner, Kenroy Wilson. “However, he wrote an apology, admitting his mistake and we brought him back in. Since that time, he was always on the ball doing what he needed to do. He has a lot of potential and he’s on the right track to be successful.
Over the past five years, the Durham Catholic District School Board (DCDSB) has collaborated with the program to ensure that the participants secure their high school diploma.
DCDSB teacher, Neil Colombe, who has worked closely with the Family Life Centre, said the graduates are leaving the program with a renewed sense of hope.
“Over the past six months, I have seen entrenched negative patterns of behaviour torn down and rebuilt, creating new ways of being that have lifted your own spirit and the spirit of all the others that you have encountered,” said Colombe. “I have seen academic achievement create confidence and a re-engagement in the educational process, a road that seemed hopeless when the program started for some.
“Now as your new road awaits you, your choices from this moment forward will determine how your next chapter will end and what roads will lay before you as you move on to write your next chapter. Choose your road wisely using all of the strategies you have learned here and consider all of the sources of information that you have available to you, including how you want your next chapter to end. You are now potential sources of hope for every person you encounter.”
Bishop Joseph Fisher, the Word of Truth Christian Centre’s founder, was instrumental in the creation of the Family Life Community Resource Centre that established the Skills Link program seven years ago. He told the graduates they should all be proud of their accomplishments.
“We have done our best to instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go,” said Bishop Fisher. “As you leave this place, a new door of opportunity has been opened for each of you and its incumbent on you to walk through it.
“I urge you to find yourselves among people who are going somewhere and doing something positive with their lives. I believe we become the people we hang out with. Seek and obtain the right support mechanisms and build on them. Going forward, know who you are and be confident in your skin. You are not misfits and you are no accident.”
When it comes to inspiration, the graduates needed to look no further than Rev. Don Meredith, who two years ago was appointed the first Jamaican-born to sit in the Senate.
The keynote speaker at the graduation, Rev. Meredith moved to Canada with his family at age 12 and rose from humble beginnings in the Jane-Finch community to become a church pastor, successful businessman, advocate for young people and Canada’s fourth Black senator.
“This is what is possible when you embrace education, you believe in yourselves and you stay on the right side of the law,” said Meredith, a volunteer pastor with the Pentecostal Praise Centre in Maple. “Pursue your bigger dreams, push yourselves beyond your comfort zones and have faith in yourselves. You have defined your own boundaries and the sky is the limit. Always remember that your attitude will determine your altitude and that will determine how high you will go and how far you will reach.”
Meredith invited the graduates to Ottawa for a tour of the Senate.
Several politicians, including Pickering’s deputy mayor, Doug Dickerson; Ajax councillor, Renrick Ashby; Members of Parliament, Corneliu Chisu and Chris Alexander and Ontario’s Minister of Consumer Affairs, Tracy MacCharles, attended the event and presented certificates to the graduates.
“This is your achievement and we are so proud of you,” said Alexander, who is also the parliamentary secretary to National Defense Minister, Peter MacKay. “You have done something special by being part of this program.”
The MPP for Pickering-Scarborough East, MacCharles praised Fisher for his leadership and vision in providing a program that offers young people the opportunity to become useful societal citizens.
“It’s programs like these that are going to make young people have wonderful futures and careers,” said MacCharles. “In this current economy, it’s not easy to get out there to find employment that is relevant, (that) will inspire youths and work that they are going to be passionate about.”
Ann-Jeanette Hutchinson, who graduated from the program last year, reflected on her time and urged the new graduates to stay positive and focused.
“Before I discovered this program, I was lost, I did not know what I wanted to do with my life, I was a very angry person who did not like myself and I was insecure,” said Hutchinson, who was shot in the right leg during the Danzig St. shooting last summer. “I was also failing classes, I stopped going to school and I was very negative. This program was a life-changing experience in that it taught me how to love, live and overcome my demons.”
Hutchinson achieved her high school diploma and is currently enrolled in Centennial College’s Community & Justice Services program.
In addition to Cromwell, the other graduates were Jimmy Airuoyuwa, who intends to enroll in Fleming College’s Basic Electrician Apprentice program; Coen Toney, who plans to enter Durham College to study agriculture; Hafiz Hussain, who is aiming to finish high school and become a hairstylist; Rouchelle Jasquith, who wants to become a paramedic; Jade Morris-Passmore, who has a passion for dental hygiene; Nathaniel Rookwood, who aspires to be an award-winning photographer; Ryan Lee, who loves to be around animals; Brittney Hercules, whose career goal is to be a lab technician; Jesse Curry, who has a passion for music and Courtney Hopgood, who has an interest in culinary arts.
Patrick Wilson and Geraldine Wade-Brown are the program’s facilitators.