Church program focuses on practical skills
Building affordable housing and providing job training for at-risk youth is the goal of Step Up, a ministry of Winnipeg’s Inner City Youth Alive (ICYA.ca). The churchbased organization is turning a derelict property in the city’s north end into a duplex for two lowerincome families while helping former gang members learn construction skills.
"We want to try to meet the need for good, safe housing in the north end," said ICYA general manager Andrew Braun, adding there is a strong need for good, safe housing in the area where 40 per cent of families in the north end live below the poverty line. Step Up, a social enterprise started by ICYA in 2021, hires local youth to do construction and repair projects in the north end, providing skills and employment training at the same time.
For Anthony Ho, who directs social enterprise efforts at ICYA, the duplex project is more than a way to provide better housing. It’s also a way for local youth to change their life trajectory. "It’s not just a job, but a chance to transform their lives," he says, adding the organization mentors and offers role models for youth, some of whom were involved in gangs.
It’s not just a job, but a chance to transform their lives.
One of those former gang members is Terrence Melquist, 27. Now married and a father of two, he is an assistant to the director of Step Up. "I enjoy teaching the skills I have learned," he says, adding he teaches things such as using power tools and how to properly use a measuring tape. It’s also about modelling good work behaviour such as "coming in each day on time and putting in your full effort."
Melquist, who didn’t complete high school, gets a special lift from working in and helping the neighbourhood he grew up in. "Now I have a job and live a normal life." Another Step Up participant is Charlie Chamakese, 24. "It feels really good to have a job and be learning new skills," said the father of two. "I would like to start my own company one day."
For Ho, Melquist and Chamakese are "representative of how lives can change through work, how they can become strong family men. They can hold their heads high."
Braun says the project is "a winwin for families trapped in unsafe living conditions, and for young people who will be given a futurebrightening job that will not only pay them a living wage, but also keep them out of gangs and out of jail." –JOHN LONGHURST