“Without this class, I might be dead or in jail, probably on the run.”— Gilliano joseph, learning enrichment foundation graduate
Every day, youth at the Learning Enrichment Foundation are given second chances to succeed in a world where most people wrote them off from the start.
The LEF, located in the Weston Road and Eglinton Avenue area of Toronto is a centre that provides services, courses and counseling to marginalized Canadians.
LEF offers programs such as a woodworking, culinary arts, and a number of other services to new Canadians, or youth who need help getting on their feet. Gilliano Joseph, a.k.a. Gilly Gadan, is a recent graduate of the cooks training program at the LEF. He found his way to the LEF kitchen via Ontario’s court system. After hearing about the woodworking program from a friend, he soon got involved. When an opening in the cooks training program appeared, he jumped on it.
“All of a sudden the class started, and it was a blessing,” says the 22-year-old who has spent the last five years of his life relying on illegal activity as his main source of income. “Without this class I might be dead or in jail, probably on the run.”
The course is a 17-week program to prepare students for work in the food industry.
The students receive minimum wage to prepare hundreds of diverse meals everyday for shelters, day cares and retirement homes, along with preparing themselves for the working world.
“It’s not like a structured school environment per se,” says Leslie McDougall, comanager of youth programs at the LEF. “Even though we do have some classroom stuff, there’s no put downs. It’s OK if you answer wrong.”
She says it’s important to provide lots of flexibility in the system, so the youth build their confidence.
Trisha Purnwasi, 18, has been building her skills at the LEF for a year. She does things like work on her resumé, build furniture, and builds important relationships that help her day-today life. Purnwasi has been arrested three times since she was 15 on charges ranging from arson, drug trafficking and assault. She says the LEF has changed her life.
“I learned that I can do something with my life,” she says. “I can make something out of myself.”
She gleams when she recalls how she felt to discover she had the talent to make and sell her own furniture.
A lot of the kids that walk into the LEF are rejected from other programs because they may not have stable housing or are caught in court, but the LEF understands the difficulty and tries to help, says Mc- Dougall.
“They all have potential,” she says. “It’s just finding what and where.”
“I never saw myself doing something specific,” says Joseph. “I never saw a legit way to feed my family.”
The program has given him a positive outlook and shown him he is capable of much more than crime.
The cooks training program is funded by Service Canada. The program has an 80 percent employment rate for students following the course. For more on the LEF call 416-760-2551.