Maximizing Youth Potential to break the cycle of poverty

Photo : Ross Taylor (JFNA)

Photo : Ross Taylor (JFNA)

By Lauren Shayer, Agence Ometz

Two years ago Agence Ometz launched Maximizing Youth Potential (MYP) to help teenagers from low income families to escape the cycle of poverty. The participants come from families that have been clients of Ometz for years.

The idea of the program was to fill in some the gaps in their lives, and to provide them with the tools and motivation they need to succeed at school. The hope was that they would gain a clearer vision of their future and achieve their potential. We work out an individual plan with each of them and lay it out in the form of a contract.  If they follow through, we may contribute money to an Educational Savings Plan and provide other incentives, such as buying laptop computers that they can use for school.

The youth that I’ve met in the program are facing some unbearable barriers of chaos and instability.  Some have a parent with a mental illness, severe depression, or, in a few cases, the parent is deceased.  Others are dealing with issues of alcoholism, domestic violence and other terribly difficult issues at home;  issues which they are simply too young to deal with on their own.

One of my clients, Ilan, is very talented. He is being raised with four siblings by a single mother. The family needs help just to make ends meet. Ilan was struggling in school when he joined MYP. We provided him with tutors. He works very hard with them and told me, “My relationship with them is more than tutoring.  They are truly interested in my life.  They encouraged me a lot to succeed.”

Ilan is an aspiring musician, so last year we sent him to music camp for a week. He returned so inspired. Recently, he said, “I do realize now that I have great potential and that I can go on to university. MYP is even going to contribute money to a university fund for me every year, if I continue doing well.” He is so enthusiastic and focused, he is already a success story without having even reached his peak.

The principal concept we try to teach in MYP is that teens must take responsibility over their lives.  Do not wait for a parent or for someone else to give you what you need. Instead, take pro-active steps to build your own future.  The MYP program’s mandate is to support them as best we can through this process, and to demonstrate that someone else believes in their future.  We do this  by connecting them with an adult volunteer mentor, providing them with counselling, tutoring, career counselling, paying for extra-curricular activities, paying for school fees and books, or other creative means to help them to overcome their disadvantages.

The participants in MYP have truly embraced our services and used our resources to their best advantage.  After being in the program for a year or more, some have raised their grade average by 10% or more. Others who were at risk of failing high school or being kicked out of school have successfully received their high school diplomas and moved on to university. Others have made significant social and emotional improvements which will undoubtedly have a positive impact on their academic success, and, in turn, help them to maximize their potential going forward.

Federation CJA allocated nearly $4.5 million to Ometz for 2010-2011.