Selena Garcia shyly approaches a visitor to the Pathways Forward learning room inside Alberni Valley Employment. “Do you have some questions for me,” she asks, smiling shyly.
Six months ago, Garcia, 61, could not speak to a stranger—especially if they were male. She would walk into a room and stand with her back to a wall so no one could walk behind her; handshakes or hugs were too much.
“I came into this course in July with low self-esteem, low self-confidence,” said Garcia. After going through the Pathways Forward program, “I have self-confidence,” she said. She has started painting, guiding others through the process and she’s thinking about going back to school.
“I’m making big steps in my life.”
Vinnie Joseph admits he first signed up for the course because he would be getting paid to take it. He quickly learned the program was much more than a cheque. “It’s actually done a lot for me,” he said.
“My courage and my ability to talk in front of people I barely know; it’s changed the way I think.”
Joseph has been off work since 2020 after suffering an on-the-job accident. He dealt with pain and having to learn to walk again, and he had some dark thoughts about whether he had a future. He said meeting other people through Pathways has given him confidence to open up with others and share his experiences.
Pathways Forward is a supportive training program for persons with disabilities between 19 and 50 years. Funded in partnership with Nuu-chah-nulth Employment and Training Program (NETP), North Island College and Island Work Transitions, the program provided meaningful training and support for persons with diverse employment needs. The program includes a cultural component and also offers work certifications such as FoodSafe, first aid and WHMIS training.
The program has run several times in the past two years, beginning with a market gardening course, facilitator Corinne Moore said. However, funding for this pilot project will run out at the end of March. “It was supposed to be a COVID response grant,” she said. The program supported people that were coming out of COVID-19 isolation with fears about returning to the workforce. Participants received payment to participate in addition to receiving job-readiness training in a supportive environment.
Moore, Ike Charlie and Indigenous elder Louise Martin ran the program, which started in November 2021 and steadily gained in popularity. The most recent program elicited 17 applicants. Fifty people participated in the program in 2022-23, two more than expected.
“Many of those participants have gone on to get work,” Moore said. “Some have chosen to come back.”
Jude “Bear” Newman took the program in September 2022; she moved to the Alberni Valley in October 2021 to be closer to family and when her Employment Insurance began to run out she turned to AV Employment for assistance. She was accepted in Pathways, and said the cultural aspect was most important for her.
“You’re so supported financially and also emotionally,” said Bear, who returned this winter as a mentor. “It’s a safe place. Things that happen here don’t go beyond here. There’s confidentiality and respect.
“I have a lot of gratitude for this program,” she said. “I’ve heard that from a lot of other participants.”
Bear will start a new job in April, thanks to the training she received at Pathways.
The program has been a success, said Moore: facilitators have supported 80 participants since 2021. She is disappointed that funding has not been renewed.
Pathways is “a very much needed approach to support people with their goals,” she added.
Vinnie Joseph would agree. He spent one of his lunch hours in February working on a First Nations drum from a previous session. He patiently threaded sinew to secure the skin drum to its frame. “(Pathways) brought back my art,” he said quietly. “It brought me back to life.
“I’m going to miss coming here.”
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