Glen Grunwald's Board Blog

Archive of the blog of the former President and CEO of the Toronto Board of Trade.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Youth ONE - Over, But Not Out

Today is the last day for our Youth ONE initiative - it was a six month effort with a September 1 end date.

If you don't know about it, Youth ONE has been our effort to help create jobs and hope for the young people in our city's vulnerable neighbourhoods. These are the classic "good kids with bad luck" who need and deserve the same kinds of opportunities that other young people in our city get, just because of where they were born.

We set a very ambitious goal - a thousand new jobs, apprenticeships, training opportunities, etc. in just six months. It turned out to be too ambitious and we ended up with more like one hundred jobs than one thousand.

So, yes, I'm disappointed we didn't hit our quota. But, apparently, no other business community has ever tried an across-the-board program like this before ... and we certainly were learning as we went along.

But there are also positives to focus on:

We helped change dozens of lives for the better, and provided more hope and positive role models for these communities.

We proved that the business community can work with the City, social agencies and community groups to make a difference in this city.

The kind of feedback we've been getting tells us that our effort has been appreciated. This is the first time that some of these neighbourhoods have heard from the 'business establishment' that their problems are important, and that their young people are equal citizens to everyone else.

The most important thing we've learned is just how misunderstood these young people and the issues they face are in mainstream Toronto. Businesses we approached quite often assumed that youth from these areas must all be in gangs, have criminal records or drug problems. They were willing to write a cheque, but not offer a job.

Those companies that did take the chance got tremendous young people who worked their butts off to take full advantage of the opportunities that a lot of others might take for granted.

However, there is obviously a huge educational challenge out there, and a real need for many Torontonians to change their attitudes towards their fellow citizens.

Okay, we've taken some lumps from some in the media for falling short of our mark. If that's the price we have to pay for trying to address the root causes of youth crime and help build a better city, that's fine. We're not doing this for glory - we're doing it because it's the right and the smart thing to do. If you want more reasons, check out my post from August 3 below.

Anyway, I'm thinking of this as just the first phase of Youth ONE -- the learning curve and experimental phase. Look for an official announcement next week of how we're going to turn this into an ongoing effort and improve how we promote this concept to the business community.

There's a terrible, tragic waste of young human lives going on. It leads to despair, poverty and sometimes drugs and crime. We're in a position to do something about it, or at least try to, so Youth ONE will continue ... stay tuned ...

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