By Nick Candiotto
IIn 2001, Javier Ortiz fled Columbia to escape homophobia. The 18-year old was in search of a better life in Toronto, but was having trouble finding it. "I wasn't able to speak English, so it was hard to talk about my issues because I couldn't express myself," Ortiz says.
After seeing their flyer on the 519 Community Centre Web site, Javier visited a Supporting Our Youth (SOY) safe space.
"When Javier first arrived, he was extremely lost and was struggling to find his place in Canada," says Clare Nobbs, program director.
Javier's initial SOY meetings were very different from other group experiences in his new home. "It was the perfect environment. I felt very comfortable ... I saw I could be in a safe place where nobody judged me."
Javier began to volunteer at SOY in May 2002, handling a variety of duties including peer support and fundraising. "Javier was here every day, working for free," Nobbs says. "We wanted him on staff, but we didn't have the funds to hire him."
Nobbs approached the Gateway Cafe -- an agency that provides employment services for youth -- about a solution.
"We immediately recommended Skills Link, a wage subsidy program offered through Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC)," says Diana Gatti, divisional co-ordinator.
Through Skills Link, SOY receives a wage subsidy in exchange for providing on-the-job training to Ortiz. As per HRDC regulations, Javier had to qualify for the subsidy, and on Aug. 25, his employment came through.
"The program allows Javier to improve his English, network in the community and also gives him an opportunity to earn a living," Gatti says.
Javier recently celebrated his first anniversary with SOY and continues to work on a variety of projects -- most notably the second edition of the newcomer immigrant youth project, Express II.
"If I had to give any advice, it would be have the courage to go out and look for your chance."
For more information about SOY and Gateway Cafe, visit them at www.soytoronto.org
To identify your neighbourhood youth employment centre for hiring made easy, at not cost to you, visit www.oayec.org/yejd_locations.html
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