VCN rolls out revamped Fall 2012-13 Youth Initiative Program in face of funding cuts

By: Karissa Gall

Despite federal funding being cut for the Community Access Program (CAP), more than 30 Metro Vancouver youth are set to start work at various non-profit organizations as part of the 2012-13 Vancouver Community Network (VCN) Youth Initiative (YI) program.

Industry Canada announced early spring that funding would not be renewed for CAP, which provided Canadians with access to free public computers and Internet since 1995 in an effort to close the “digital divide”.  However, the department did renew funding for YI internships, which were launched in 1997 to compliment CAP while providing young Canadians with Information and Communications Technology (ICT) related work experience.

As of October, 37 new youth interns have been placed at 17 non-profit bookstores, art studios, housing societies, community organizations, schools, libraries and other sites from the Downtown Eastside all the way to Bowen Island through the YI program. A total of 44 interns are expected to complete contracts by the end of March, 2013.

According to VCN Operations and Programs Coordinator Shayna Halliwell and Youth Initiatives Coordinator Robyn Chan, a few interns have been active at the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, UBC Learning Exchange and Vancouver Coop Radio since as early as August, providing support for ICTs and doing training, web page development, e-commerce and administration.

“The four interns that we rolled out in August are doing really well,” said Chan, following a recent all-intern workshop.  “I think interns go into this told that they’re going to do computer tutoring on a one-on-one basis and they don’t think they’re really going to get anything out of it, but you learn more skills than you think you’re going to; I think they’re learning more than they thought they would.”

“I got emotional at the workshop yesterday,” added Halliwell.  “When one of our interns, Joyce, was talking about her project and how she’d gone of her own volition to the UBC Learning Exchange to talk to one of the site supervisors about how to properly run a workshop, and then consulted the women at the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre on what they wanted, it was clear that she’s making connections, she’s learning, and she’s get something out of this, not only personal satisfaction but professional development.”

New to the network this year, Halliwell and Chan have been implementing plans to personalize and professionalize the VCN YI internship process.  They have been conducting site visits to have paperwork signed in-person, created legal contracts for sites and interns to sign, set intern roles and responsibilities, established a mandatory orientation and monthly all-intern workshops, and will be undertaking on-site check-ins every 50 to 100 hours of work.

“It makes a big difference in terms of seeing what each site is like, meeting the supervisors and being able to place someone appropriately,” said Halliwell, with Chan adding that she hopes their efforts are helping VCN to make better connections with the community.

“Going to all these sites you do see the community that exists,” she said.

Halliwell and Chan are also hoping that VCN headquarters’ new location in the Woodward’s Building will strengthen connections with the community that they serve.

Having moved its headquarters from the 411 Seniors Centre Society’s old location on Dunsmuir (closed and relocated to 333 Terminal Ave. in June 2012) to Woodward’s this summer, VCN is now operating out of an office located within the same community as the majority of the sites it supports, the Downtown Eastside.

“Woodward’s is a really monumental building, for the Downtown Eastside and also for Vancouver,” said Halliwell.  “When I was growing up, Woodward’s was a department store that I went to with my Grandpa to get nice dresses, and then it went into disrepair for several years.  People squatted here and lived here and actually made it their home.

“There are people that are not comfortable with the way it has been redeveloped but I think they’ve done it in such a way that the majority of the community seems to support it.  It’s a school but also a public space, there is low-income housing, and community non-profit office space at a really subsidized rate.  I think they’ve done a really great job, and it’s cool to be a part of that.”

While Chan said that “the loss of CAP is still being quantified”, she and Halliwell are optimistic that the 2012-13 YI program will prove a success and cited a “silver lining” to the programming changes.

“The non-profits where interns are being placed must have an ICT function, but it no longer matters if the intern is doing that function,” said Halliwell.

“The mandate of an intern is broader now because it’s not just tech-based or computer-based.  I think it’s a lot more useful in terms of professional development,” added Chan.

They said VCN has also been able to open the YI program up to non-CAP sites, such as Geist Magazine, a Vancouver-based national literary magazine, which received a paid intern late September.

As for the future of the program, “we hope it sticks around,”  said Chan.

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