By: Karissa Gall
The 2012-13 Vancouver Community Network (VCN) Youth Initiative (YI) program held its third all-intern workshop on November 21 in the Woodward’s Building, bringing together the more than 30 Metro Vancouver youth who have been working at non-profit organizations based in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood all the way to Bowen Island since the beginning of fall.
Suzy O’Shea, computer and drop-in program assistant at Intern Host Organization (IHO) UBC Learning Exchange, kicked off the workshop with a presentation on the significance of the digital divide in the Downtown Eastside and the essential role that interns play in the success of the Learning Exchange’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT)-related programming.
“We have people who come in to the Learning Exchange and they have never held a mouse, they have never turned a computer on before, and these people are now expected to job hunt or apply for their EI (Employment Insurance) online. They are expected to do all these things that are now becoming more and more online- and computer-based, and it just widens the digital divide even more,” said O’Shea.
“People are being left behind.”
While O’Shea said the Learning Exchange is “overprescribed for (their) computer workshops all the time,” she added that through the VCN YI program, they have been able to further extend services and support.
“When people have an intern to sit down with them and explain (ICTs), that is fantastic,” she said. “It’s the benefit of one-to-one work.”
Sylvia McFadden, longtime member of the youth-run IHO the Purple Thistle Centre for arts and activism, echoed O’Shea’s praise for the positive impact of VCN YI interns.
“The interns are some of the really pivotal youth that have come through the space,” said McFadden. “Marly Scannell did his internship here and just stayed. During his internship he set up the Purple Thistle server. He still maintains the server and comes to collective meetings. He’s been just an amazing resource.”
McFadden said another previous intern, Joi Arcand, is currently applying publishing skills she picked up through her involvement in the Purple Thistle RAIN (Radical Art in Nature) program to establish a Cree publication in Saskatchewan, and that current intern Julian Evans is “running InDesign workshops.”
Following the guest speakers, current intern Beshele Caron took the floor to talk about her experiences working at Spartacus Books. Caron outlined the administrative work she has done sorting through backlogged volunteer applications and conducting interviews with volunteer candidates before describing the project she is most passionate about: the extension of “People’s Phone Line” VoIP
Caron said the 24-hour free VoIP telephone that has been installed on the Spartacus storefront has been successful, and that “there are often three or four people standing waiting to use it.”
She said she will be working to extend similar services to other sites in the Strathcona community and Downtown Eastside, where phones have been “systematically removed”, thought to contribute to violence, the drug trade and prostitution. On the contrary, “Spartacus believes that people have the right to access phones for safety reasons,” said Caron.
Chris Chu, who is interning as a database assistant and website administrator at Collingwood Neighbourhood House (CNH) while completing his bachelor’s degree in information technology from Kwantlen Polytechnic University, continued the workshop with updates that he has rebuilt the CNH Resource Library database to be more user-friendly, and is populating the database using FileMaker software as well as assisting in the development of the CNH website.
Chu expressed appreciativeness for the internship opportunity, saying that it is “very hard to find a database development job for a university student.”
“After I’ve taken this project, I’ll have more confidence to take on another project at school,” he said.
Following Chu’s presentation, Tradeworks Training Society intern James Grainger spoke about his own work in website administration, saying that he has “rebuilt their Custom Products website to reflect the idea that it is a business that sells products but also gives back to the community.”
Grainger added that he has also been supporting the production of Tradeworks’ newsletters, “telling the stories of the women who’ve worked there to advertise the products”.
Embers intern Camille Cooper said she has been doing office administration work as well as marketing for the Embers Ventures program’s “Build a Business” course. She said she has been able to work with the many people who come through the office looking for employment, and that her internship is proving a “rewarding experience to follow up graduating with a degree in political science.”
“I’m now considering social work,” said Cooper. “I wouldn’t have thought about that before.”
Arielle de la Cruz Yip brought the workshop to an end presenting on her placement at the Neighbourhood Housing Society’s Oasis building. Through the one-on-one workshops she has been holding with tenants on topics such as resume writing, email, YouTube and Skype, de la Cruz Yip said she has learned “important lessons” such as “knowing the conditions of our local social housing.”