Hope in Action

October 2020


This Thanksgiving at Ray of Hope, we’re grateful for all the blessings that allowed us to continue serving people in need during this challenging year. Your support is one of the biggest blessings because, without you, none of our services would exist. In this issue, meet Petra, a young woman who’s starting an exciting career after completing our Youth Employment Program. Then learn how, with your support, the program is adapting to help other young people build brighter futures.

Happy Thanksgiving!

From job search to safari

Ray of Hope’s Youth Employment Program helped Petra find a job she loves, working with animals.

Through education and on-the-job training, Ray of Hope’s Youth Employment Program helps young people enter the workplace with the skills they need to succeed. Since much of the training involves working in food services, many participants find employment in hospitality. However, the skills they learn can be applied in many different settings.

Just ask Petra. After completing the program this past winter, she found a job she loves. It still involves serving food. But now she’s feeding the residents at African Lion Safari.

Petra has always loved animals. She’s worked on a farm and a wildlife sanctuary and completed a veterinary assistant program at college. But even with this experience, she couldn’t find stable employment. Her last position before joining the Youth Employment Program was at a kennel, where she was the only full-time employee and worked six days a week.

While looking for a new job, Petra saw an ad for the Youth Employment Program. She was already familiar with Ray of Hope, having volunteered at the Community Centre with her church.

“I felt like I was being called to the program. It seemed like a really good fit and it ended up being perfect,” she says. Now, with the program’s help, Petra has a career with a future.

“We’ll give you a chance”

Young woman looks out the window of a zebra-striped pickup truck
Petra’s favourite part of her job at African Lion Safari is feeding the animals. “They come running” when they see the truck, she says.

The program requires participants to complete three phases: in-class studies to prepare them for the job search, an in-house job placement with Morning Glory Café and Catering, and a final external placement with a local business. When it came time for Petra to choose an external placement, she was excited to see Brantford Twin Valley Zoo on the list.

“The zoo said ‘yes, we’ll give you a chance.’ That’s the great thing about the Youth Employment Program. You have staff and employers that trust you and want you,” she says.

Over the ten weeks of her placement, Petra learned about the work that goes into running a zoo. She got hands-on experience working with the animals, including her favourite resident, a camel named Leroy.

“I loved getting to know the other zookeepers and learning from them. I asked hundreds and hundreds of questions about each animal and about how the zoo works.”

The pandemic hit right at the end of Petra’s placement. Uncertain about her next steps, she continued on as a volunteer at the Zoo. Then came an opportunity to work at African Lion Safari. The interview preparation she learned in the program plus the experience with exotic animals that she gained at the Zoo paid off. Petra was hired.

“They set us up for success”

Today, Petra’s workdays involve a variety of activities, from caring for the animals to monitoring visitors in the drive-through game reserves. Her favourite days are spent behind the scenes, cleaning pens and feeding the antelope, elk, deer and other hoof stock.

“We hop into the back of a truck and pour buckets of feed out and they always come running,” she says with a laugh.

“The best part of this job is the chance to work so closely with the animals. And the people are fantastic. They are so open and they want everyone to learn about the animals and the work that goes into running the Safari.”

“The Youth Employment Program was a great opportunity for me. The staff really set us up for success. They taught us what employers are looking for and got us ready to go out into the workplace. They even supplied our uniforms.”

“I feel like the program came at the perfect time. I definitely think it was God’s way of telling me ‘it’s time for a change.’”

Participants, placements and pasta

How the Youth Employment Program is adapting to help young people find jobs during COVID.

We spoke to Program Director Sharlene Wallace about some of the challenges (and positives!) that Ray of Hope’s Youth Employment (YE) Program has experienced lately. We also talked about a new way that donors can support the program while enjoying a pasta dinner!

Adapting in the classroom

The YE Program gives young people who’ve had trouble finding employment a fresh start. Through classroom work, internal job placements at Morning Glory Café and Catering and external work experience, they learn the skills they need to be successful in the workplace. Despite the pandemic, the program has had no trouble attracting participants.

“We have had a huge response from youth who are interested in the program. We have recruited for three intakes since March and each time it has been no problem to fill each group. If anything, we have difficulty choosing because we have had so many great candidates apply,” Sharlene says.

The first phase of the program (where participants receive employment education, earn certifications and prepare for their job search) is continuing on an in-class basis. Program staff have adjusted group activities to maintain social distancing and everyone wears masks.

“However, if someone was to test positive for COVID-19, we’ve adapted the program so that they would be able to participate in lectures via Skype and complete their assignments online,” Sharlene says.

Overcoming challenges

The pandemic has had negative effects in terms of program funding since catering and café sales help to offset program costs. It also made it harder to find job placements for participants, as the café located at the Family Centre was forced to close. But there are hopeful signs, Sharlene says.

Two young women display trays of mini-loaves
Youth Employment (YE) Program participants get hands-on experience while working at Morning Glory Café and Catering. (Photo taken in 2016).

“Our catering business is very slow, but we have noticed a slight pick-up this month as schools reopen and some people return to work. We are able to individually package most of our catering menu items and this has been very well received by our customers.”

“In addition, the Heffner Toyota dealership is now providing internal work experience placements in several departments to make up for the loss of Family Centre placements, and the Morning Glory Café at Heffner Toyota is going well.”

Virtual fundraising

The YE Program receives some government funding. However, generous donations from individuals, churches and businesses help cover a large percentage of program costs.

Heffner Toyota is a long-time supporter of the YE Program. Besides providing space for a Morning Glory Café location, the dealership also hosts an annual fundraising event in support of the program.

This year, Heffner has changed the event to an online format. Donors will be able to purchase a box containing everything needed for a delicious pasta dinner. Then, they’ll be able to follow online as Sharlene and a current program participant show how to prepare the dish while sharing information about the program and its impact. Watch for more information in November’s e-newsletter!

Youth Employment Program staff are always on the lookout for businesses that might be willing to offer external job placements to participants. Please contact the program at 519-501-6827 to learn about the benefits and support available to employers.

Help a neighbour in need

When you give, you make life a little easier for those in our community who are struggling. Thank you!

During the COVID-19 outbreak, we’re not able to accept donations of food or clothing. But you can still provide meals for hungry people through our secure donation page.