RYSA is making 'Connections' to 'Community Services' to house vulnerable youth

Richmond Youth Services Association has big changes in store

Marshall Thompson’s eyes widen and his voice sparks with excitement each time he describes the level of gumption exuded daily by 24-year-old John Grann, who, as a client-turned-volunteer of Richmond Youth Services Agency, has overcome many challenges in the early stage of his life.

Thompson, executive director of RYSA, notes Grann spent a year commuting between a placement home in East Vancouver and Tsawwassen Mills, where he now works as a fishing expert at Bass Pro Shop. Never once was he late.

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“John’s gone through some pretty big challenges and he’s committed to doing the work. It’s not just like we’re giving him opportunities; he’s worked for them as well,” said Thompson.

With an injection of cash into its Youth Works employment training and support program, RYSA is hoping to turn the table for more vulnerable youth such as Grann, who found himself homeless as a teenager.

“They can help you for a job or for anything. They were able to help me go back to school and get into the job field. They helped me with resume building and just learning about jobs. That was a big barrier for me,” said Grann.

“If it wasn’t for them I may not be in this field,” Grann told his audience Feb. 8 at RYSA’s head office prior to a $200,000 funding announcement by Royal Bank of Canada, via its Future Launch program, in partnership with Children's Aid Foundation of Canada.

Thompson said Grann has “volunteered his time diligently over the decade. We’ve hired him a little bit for homework clubs and activities for young kids. He’s really taken on a leadership role with Aboriginals and young kids.”

Grann is a member of Tsawwassen First Nation. Much of RYSA’s work for vulnerable youth, or youth in care, is focused on assisting Aboriginal youth, as their needs are well overrepresented compared to the overall population. 

The Youth Works program helps youth learn essential skills and access resources necessary to enter the workforce. RYSA is able to combine this service with its housing programs. Grann was able to be housed only in Vancouver (nothing available in Richmond) prior to landing gainful employment and then renting a place on his own in Tsawwassen.

“What is that, only a 15-minute walk? Now you definitely can’t be late,” chuckled Thompson.

Joking aside, Thompson said thousands of Canadian youth are falling out of government care with little or no direction.

“They lack many things their peers take for granted such as a family home to return to while they look for a job, help with groceries and bills when times are tough, or someone to help them prepare for a job interview. Without the necessary supports to become self-sufficient, youth in Richmond/South Vancouver face a multitude of barriers when transitioning from care and often face a future of poverty and homelessness,” noted Thompson.

Because RYSA’s approach is multi-faceted and involves working with many non-profit groups, the association will soon rebrand as Connections Community Services, on March 15.

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