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Jermaine on construction site

After experiencing unemployment, Jermain was connected to a United Way-supported program that helped him enter an apprenticeship in the trades

“My mom always took care of me and my siblings. She did a good job. We moved a lot and I went to many different schools. We ended up in foster care a few times. We finally settled in Regent Park with my mom. I loved it there. I met a lot of good people and had some great opportunities. I got to participate in community clubs, and I learned how to play the saxophone in Grade 6. I auditioned for the All City Band and got in, so I got to perform at Massey Hall a couple of times. My mom was so proud of me. I still play the saxophone. I have a passion for music and I’d love to be a music teacher one day.

One of my memories from school is a teacher telling us that the majority of Black kids weren’t going to even make it to high school. I didn’t understand why the teacher would tell kids that they don’t have faith in us, and that we’re going to drop out of school. I saw the impact this message had on many of my classmates—they took it to heart. Some of them became involved with gun violence.

It really shocked me. I had grown up believing guns were only in movies, or just for the police. Then one day when I was around 15, I was volunteering with a safe walk program and I was threatened with a gun by someone I knew. I was terrified and really worried for my life. After that, I decided the best thing to do was to move in with a family member who lived in a different neighbourhood. I had to stop living with my mom, which was really hard. I had to leave my community, friends and volunteer jobs, and because of this I ended up losing a scholarship I was working toward that would have helped me pay for university.

After I graduated, I moved around a few more times. I completed some certification programs and held on to a few different jobs. Then a couple of years ago I went through a breakup and lost my job. I became very depressed and moved back in with my mom. I was staying with her and looking for what to do next when my brother told me about a United Way-supported youth employment program he was doing. It sounded interesting, so I signed up. From there, I was connected to a program that helps people enter apprenticeships and careers in the trades. I enrolled.

My favourite part was meeting the amazing agency staff and seeing how much they cared for, and wanted to help, me. If I showed them I was willing to put in the effort, they were going to support me and be there every step of the way. They connected me to all the resources I needed to start a career and join a union. They helped me upgrade my math and provided me with a support system as I was going through depression. They also compensated me so I could live and pay rent while I completed the program. It was also really powerful to speak to people who became successful after graduating from the program. I saw that they did well, and that gave me hope. The most important thing I learned there is to have faith in myself. I’ve built such a strong connection to my mentors and community at this program—I still depend on them today.

I would recommend the program to anybody who needs to be pushed in the right direction, or who is looking for a better chance in life and just hasn’t come across the right opportunity. I’m thankful I’ve had the chance to be a part of it. Today I’m in my first term as a glazing apprentice—I fabricate and install windows and other glass products—and my career has given me the freedom to keep building my life.”

United Way program participant

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