FACED with a lack of resources to secure higher education and limited employment options, several of Jamaica’s young people have turned their attention to Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU), an organisation that seeks to help them realise their full potential.
Set up in April 2009, YOU offers assistance to youths from age 10 to 26, focusing on areas such as career guidance; entrepreneurship; parenting education; and life skills management, through various workshops, presentations, seminars, and field trips.
The organisation also offers mentoring programmes and provides young people with the opportunity to develop skills in information technology, choreography, photography, jewellery design, floral arrangement and crochet.
In April, several youths, who have benefited from their involvement with YOU, testified to the rewards during a youth summit staged by the organisation at Eden Gardens in Kingston.
Among the speakers were Ceyan Atkinson, 25, a budding entrepreneur from Central Kingston, who was able to launch his own business with assistance from the entity.
“Through YOU seminars, such as ethics and business planning, I was able to get valuable information which helped me to pursue my dream of starting my own business,” he said. “Through the seminars, I was able to practise networking and set attainable goals, such as starting my own business. I am very grateful for that and what YOU has taught me so far.”
Added Atkinson: “The co-ordinators are always ready and willing to help youths in learning how to achieve their goals. They are also very amicable and make learning easy.”
Andrew Wray, 19, an aspiring restaurateur, who is currently awaiting approval from the Jamaica National Small Business Loan Limited, also praised the centre for the help offered to him.
“I was very pleased by the sincerity of the co-ordinators’ non-profit desire to help build on my potential. The workshops that they offer are very helpful and ultimately rewarding in the end,” he said. “YOU has made some drastic and sudden improvements in my life by helping me to become a more self-motivated individual, more involved in extra-curricular activities and more exposed to what is happening around me. I must say YOU has rewarded me very well.”
Also among the young speakers was Ajan Francis, a student from Excelsior Community College and a member of YOU. He encouraged employers not to turn their backs on the youth when they come seeking employment but instead to give them the opportunity to gain valuable work experience.
“There is no way for us to gain experience if we don’t get a job, so I encourage the employers to have an open mind,” Francis said.
Meanwhile, Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Olivia Grange — who was represented by Roberta Brown Ellis, the director of the National Centre for Youth Development — lauded the YOU for its contribution to the development of the country’s youths and for being the largest mentoring organisation in the Caribbean.
“If we are to consistently succeed at engaging our youths in a meaningful way, we must foster greater networking with all our stakeholders, as the benefits are immeasurable. We will be better able to efficiently utilise the limited resources available to us, identify critical areas for intervention, share best practices and ensure that none of our youths are left without viable opportunities,” she said.
Ellis, on the minister’s behalf, also promised to use youth mainstreaming as one of the tools to develop a strategy for making youth concerns and experiences an integral dimension in the design and implementation, the monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes geared toward youth development.
Youth mainstreaming is defined by the United Nations Economic and Social Council as the process of assessing the implications for young persons, of any planned action, including legislation, policies, programmes and projects, in all areas and at all levels.
Claudette Chin, a member of the YOU board of directors, for her part, called on government, non-government organisations and other members of the public and private sectors to assist the centre which she said was desperately in need of funds.
Currently, she said YOU operates with only two computers, although it needs at least 20. Chin also called for persons to become mentors and for others with skills to volunteer their time with the centre in order to pass on a skill to the youths.
“There is nothing wrong with our youths in this country, but we have to do something better for them; we have to save the future of our country,” she said.