Stephanie Lake photo


Centennial College’s Helping Youth Pursue Education class graduated last week. The ceremony was marked by laughter and high-fives.

Anthony Simpson, a 23-year-old resident of “The G-way,” or Kingston-Galloway neighbourhood of Scarborough, is thankful he found something constructive to do this summer.

“I could have been out causing trouble and I’m here learning instead,” he says of his six weeks spent studying audio recording at Centennial College. “This program really saved me.”

Youth living in the east-end Toronto neighbourhoods of Malvern, Kingston-Galloway and Scarborough Village have been given a new outlook on life, thanks to a tuition-free summer training program offered by the college.

Approximately 115 young people aged 13 to 29 participated in training classes in audio recording, video production, automotive clinic, computer repair, food service and business entrepreneurship.

For some, participating in Centennial’s HYPE (Helping Youth Pursue Education) program was the first positive school experience they’ve had in a long time. Now in its fourth year, the summer program was retooled to include business entrepreneurship for the first time.

The initiative is rooted in Toronto Mayor David Miller’s Community Safety Plan, designed to bring programming to “at-risk” youth in under-serviced parts of the city. Centennial worked with local community service agencies to identify young people who could benefit from the programming.

In addition to the tuition-free courses, the college provided transportation, textbooks and lunches at no cost to the participants.

Thanks to a generous grant ($450,000 over three years) from Michael (Pinball) Clemons’ Youth Challenge Fund, First Generation funding from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities and private donations, the program has been expanded to include more participants, more courses, mentors and additional employability and life skills training.

The group graduated last week during an afternoon ceremony marked by laughter, poetry and some enthusiastic high-fives. Donning traditional convocation gowns, each student received a Centennial certificate of completion.

Program co-ordinator Tony Granato says the program succeeds where others have failed because everybody checks their judgments and attitudes at the door.

“Many of them are high school dropouts with unhappy memories of school. A lot of the work involves getting them to realize their potential. It’s really about eliminating barriers for them.”

Living up to the project name — which was proposed by the students themselves — some 22 participants are enrolled to continue their studies this fall, aided by a bursary awarded by the college.

Granato says the project will continue for at least two more years; donations can be made by calling 416-289-5000, ext. 5148.