BladeRunners Gives At-risk Youth a Second Chance
By: Alana Clement
In 18 cities across British Columbia, BladeRunners is helping at-risk youth pave their own way to a brighter, more prosperous future.
In 1994, when GM Place was being built in Vancouver, there was a critical shortage of skilled trades workers. Jim Green, a well-known advocate for disadvantaged youth and the homeless, and the founder of BladeRunners, realized that there was also a high percentage of street kids in need of jobs. He saw an opportunity for everyone involved and decided to match one need with another. "I heard a lot of criticism from people saying that it was too dangerous to put these kids on a construction site and that it wouldn't be successful. But these kids proved to be the best workers in BC," said Green.
Having just celebrated its 15th anniversary, BladeRunners has proven that these at-risk young people will succeed if given a chance. In fact, they'll do more than succeed; they'll thrive. "We're looking for accomplishment, not just labourers," said Kim Maust, Vice President of Bastion Development Corporation, who regularly hires workers from BladeRunners. "We're looking for individuals who will contribute to the success of the project and that's what BladeRunners delivers: accomplishment and success."
BladeRunners' success is premised on providing more than just jobs — it also offers ongoing support and guidance to participants.
The coordinators start by looking at the person as a whole — what their strengths are, what issues they're facing and what challenges they may have to overcome in order to be a good employee. Since problems for at-risk youth typically happen after the work day ends, BladeRunners developed an award-winning system of 24/7 support.
Provincially, BladeRunners has a 66 per cent Aboriginal participation rate and a job-placement rate of 88 per cent, higher in some cities — indicating that the program is clearly working. Darcy McDiarmid, Director of BladeRunners, believes it's important that the program attract a high number of Aboriginal young people. "We'd like to see as many Aboriginal people benefit from this program as possible," said McDiarmid. "And we do that by providing different levels of support. We offer cultural support by bringing in spiritual leaders who come and talk about how to use spiritual identity and culture to be successful."
"BladeRunners gave me a second chance at life," said a previous BladeRunners participant. "There was a time when things were pretty rough, but they always believed in me and took the time to help me. They helped me out with some legal matters and helped pay my moving costs when I moved into Vancouver. Now I'm a Lead Hand on several major construction projects around the city."
The Sky's the Limit
The program has attracted attention from more than just industry. Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, through its Urban Aboriginal Strategy, provides financial support, and the Province of BC and local governments support the program on an ongoing basis.
BladeRunner's positive track record is now being recognized across Canada, in cities like Calgary and Toronto, and even internationally. The Mayor of New Orleans has been in contact with program staff to voice support and interest in starting a similar program in that city.
For many, BladeRunners has opened the door to jobs and communities. It has helped others start their own companies. "BladeRunners participants help build communities. They not only contribute to the economic well-being of BC cities, but also help change the sky lines," said McDiarmid.
Where to find a BladeRunners near you
The BladeRunners program operates throughout the province, in:
- Mount Currie
- Prince George
- Port Alberni
For more information on BladeRunners , visit www.bladerunners.info
Urban Aboriginal Strategy
A community-based initiative developed by the Government of Canada to improve the social and economic opportunities of Aboriginal peoples living in urban centers. Through the Urban Aboriginal Strategy, all levels of government work with Aboriginal community members and organizations to increase the participation of urban Aboriginal people in the economy, in the priority areas of improving life skills; job training, skills and entrepreneurship; and support for Aboriginal women, children and families.
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