Alison sits in a refurbished office space in the heart of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, clicking away at an online workplace-safety certification test.
The 22-year-old is an amateur filmmaker and one of six young adults currently enrolled in a film program at Intersections Media Opportunities for Youth Society, a non-profit organization that uses film to teach employability and life skills to at-risk youth.
“I was having trouble finding work because I struggle with anxiety issues and I suffer from PTSD,” said Alison, who identifies as gender queer and also has a history of drug dependency.
That is why Alison enrolled in Intersections. The group’s film program is designed specifically to meet the needs of vulnerable youth, offering them skills, mentorship and support.
So far, 186 participants have completed the Intersections program and 124 of them have gotten jobs.
“I feel that they really push to give you all the tools that you really need in order to take care of yourself,” Alison said.
The Intersections program
The first five weeks of the 10-week program focus on employment skills, shooting and technical production. The next phase is an internship.
“The whole purpose of the program is that participants gain experience and confidence for long-term attachment to the workforce,” said Christopher Hindle, who sits on the board of directors at Intersections.
The educational program at Intersections started in 2009. According to Hindle, the projects taught in class allow students to exercise skills that go way beyond filmmaking and focus on transferable skills like critical thinking, effective team-work, leadership, and self-expression.
During their time in the program, students get a small stipend from Intersections to give them financial stability.
Intersections came under the umbrella of the long-established Bladerunners organization, which traditionally focused on skills training for construction.
In 2009, when when the economy had slowed considerably, the agency decided to expand into technical trades to create more opportunities for the youth.
“We needed to allow the agency to branch out so that we could actually target sectors that made sense,” said Tom Galway, Bladerunners’ director.
Hope for the future
Don Krug, a professor at UBC’s education faculty, praised programs like Intersections that focus on teaching disadvantaged young adults a wide variety of life skills.
“They are extremely important and successful, especially for youth who have been marginalized or have some type of learning or physical disability,” he said.
Through programs based on creative arts, young adults can engage in new materials and learn new skills, boosting their confidence and bringing them closer to the labour force.
“They provide an opportunity for youth who feel like they are on the outside to actually move into society,” said Krug.
Fredrik Thorsen, the program’s lead instructor, believes that hands-on training empowers students to take control of their own education, preparing them for potential jobs.
“There is no reason for people, like these young adults, to not fill their time with self-improving habits that will serve them with their future employment opportunities.”
Sense of the possible
Alison’s opportunities in the workforce will begin with an internship at Vancouver-based Cineworks film studio. There, they will be working on graphic design and may even get a chance to do some editing.
“I can see myself using the internship to do some networking to start getting my personal projects off the ground and hopefully find some work in the film industry,” Alison said.
The program has given Alison a new sense of what is possible.
“I have been given a lot of really valuable information so I can actually plan ahead for the future even when I’m out of the program.”