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One Day Can Change Everything

Photo by Shane Luhning

Photo by Shane Luhning

For Kim Sutherland, CEO of Regina’s Street Culture Project, changing young lives is a commitment he lives every day. Kim began his work more than twenty years ago, helping Regina’s vulnerable youth find a place in a world that hadn’t been very kind in their young lives. Today, Street Culture engages street-involved youth by providing temporary housing, mentorships, work experiences and more to improve their lives and get them ‘out of the system’ and onto a better path. “We serve youth from age 14 through 29, and most are referred to us by other youth,” says Sutherland. “Once we’re involved with a young person, we figure out how best we can help them.” This process can involve offering temporary housing, working with social workers, assisting with education, navigating the courts, finding help for addiction or mental health issues and help with employment. Whatever the young person’s needs, Street Culture does their best to help.

Street Culture’s Pre-employment Program is a popular and innovative initiative with both participants and employers. Created by Kim when he recognized that so many Street Culture youth struggle with finding stable employment, he and the Street Culture staff began a program to remove barriers and assist their young charges to break the chain of welfare dependence. “Many of our kids come from homes where they are second or third generation welfare-dependant,” says Sutherland. “They have had no experience with work or even see work as a choice. Instead, welfare is a lifestyle, and applying for it is a rite of passage.” Street Culture breaks that cycle by preparing kids for work from the ground up. “Our goal is to turn every kid into a taxpaying citizen that contributes to the system instead of relying on the system,” says Sutherland.

The Pre-employment Program starts with the very basics. First, kids need to prove their identity which can be very hard. “Getting our kids a SIN number is not easy, as many of them have tenuous connections to their families of origin,” says Sutherland. “Once we establish a SIN number, we move on to being ready to look for work.” The program guides youth through many things from writing a resume to small details so many of us take for granted—like setting an alarm to get to work on time, having a clean and tidy appearance, a proper handshake and eye contact, and much more. “Once we’ve worked on all of that, our kids get to test the waters with one of our program employers.”

Photo by Shane Luhning

Participants learn on-the-job skills for anywhere from two to six months with some of Regina’s major employers including Young’s Equipment, Harvard Developments, All-Rite, Deveraux Homes and Conexus Arts Centre. “These paid work experiences are invaluable to our kids,” says Sutherland. “They learn so much from their work experiences. It’s more than a pay cheque for them—it’s the sense of accomplishment they get from an honest day’s work.” Street Culture assesses the program’s success by comparing how much each participant pays in taxes versus what would be spent if they were still in the system on welfare or worse yet, incarcerated. “Every young person we get through our program and into employment is a win for that young person and our community,” says Sutherland. “When we break the cycle of dependence, it carries on well into the future.”

The Pre-employment Program also has a big local supporter—local entrepreneur and philanthropist Karl Fix. Fix and the Street Culture team launched their fundraiser, Sasktoberfest, last year and raised $110,000 for the Pre-employment Program. The 2nd annual event takes place September 23rd at the Delta Regina with a fundraising goal of $150,000. The event, complete with an authentic German meal and entertainment flown in from Germany, is a great way for local businesses to support the worthwhile program. “We auction off working time from the program to businesses,” says Sutherland. “$2,100 buys one month of working time for one participant, and everyone benefits—the kids, the businesses and the whole community.”

Any local business can participate in the Pre-employment Program, no matter what kind of work is on offer. “We’re always looking for new opportunities for our kids, and they’re willing to work at whatever is needed,” says Sutherland. “Giving these kids a chance to become productive, happy citizens is a reward unto itself. When you offer up a job to one of them, you can literally change their lives forever.” To learn more about Street Culture and what they can do for your business, visit streetcultureproject.org.