ARCHIVED - Snuneymuxw First Nation ‘Village’ Helps Youth Enter Workforce

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By: Miranda Post

Summer 2009
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There's a popular African proverb: "it takes a village to raise a child".  For the Snuneymuxw First Nation, their proverbial village continues its work, helping their young people mature and become adults. 

Snuneymuxw First Nation believes that helping young people overcome personal challenges and become healthy adults is a community priority and indeed a goal for the whole village.

According to Snuneymuwx's Training and Career Counsellor Nancy Seward, easing young people into the workforce and encouraging them to take control of their lives requires team work. This inspired Seward and a small, dedicated team to start the Social Development Pilot Program to help Snuneymuxw youth.

"Our unemployment rate was 56 per cent with high numbers of youth between the ages of 19 and 30 on Social Assistance. We wanted to do something about it, so we thought we would pilot a social development program focussed on employment coaching," explains Seward. 

The Social Development Pilot Project team at Snuneymuxw First Nation helps young members find jobs and gain skills. Pictured Left-Right: Michelle Sokolowsi, Nancy Seward, Michéle Hillier, Lorraine Littlefield, Wanda Good, missing Karen Ahenakew.

The small team brings together Snuneymuxw's education, social development, human resources and health departments. The team combines one-on-one employment counselling with bi-monthly group workshops on resume writing, job readiness and interview skills. The overall goal of the program is to decrease the number of young, employable Snuneymuxw First Nation youth collecting income assistance, while helping them improve their quality of life.

The first step, notes Seward, is to meet with the individual youth and look at his/her life as a whole. The team developed their own assessment package that holistically considers the youth's needs, factoring in things like education, family history, support systems, employment history, and health needs.

"Some of our clients have never had a formal job in their life," says Seward. "But they have skills. They have worked in their yard, babysat or volunteered at the community longhouse. We really try to focus on what their skills are."

Seward also asks the youth she works with to develop a life plan, setting out their life and employment goals to serve as a map for their future. The youth share their plan with Seward so she can better guide them and organize workshops that will help them in achieving their ambitions. In the meantime, Seward coordinates with her team members to assist her clients with dental, medical or education needs identified in their assessment form.

Seward explains that she and co-worker Wanda Good use two main tactics to encourage youth to enter the work world. They stress to the youth that it's okay for them to move along at a pace they are comfortable with, but perhaps most importantly they emphasize the financial benefits of having a job. "Even just part-time they can make $10-$15 an hour," Seward says. 

To highlight the benefits of seeking employment, each month the team arranges for a guest speaker from a local business to come in to talk about potential employment opportunities. Locally-based companies such as BC Ferries, Terasen Gas and Quality Foods have all participated, some even taking applications on the spot.

Sometimes program participants will go to employment agencies in Nanaimo to attend various workshops. The Nanaimo Youth Service agency offers workshops tailored to Snuneymuxw youth, which allow them to receive the education and training they need in a comfortable setting. 

"One of our greatest advantages is that we're an urban reserve. We have so much access to different resources," explains Karen Ahenakew, a social worker who works alongside Seward. "We have our culture too. Our practices at the longhouse are really strong — it's something for people to participate in and feel good."

The social development program is now into its second year providing culturally appropriate and practical employment services. Since its inception, Snuneymuxw's holistic village approach to employment services has helped 15 young people find jobs and more than 20 others to upgrade their skills and education.

Snuneymuxw Fast Facts

The Social Development Pilot Program has yielded impressive results so far:

*** Snuneymuxw First Nation's employment pilot program is partially funded by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada's Active Measures initiative. Active Measures build clients'/stakeholders' capacity, enhance/create opportunities and links resources and partners.

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