Trades Program Helps Vulnerable Youth Succeed

Man holds pot of food

Zach Blyth, 19, knows what it means to struggle in school. Feeling like he didn’t belong was always tied to a powerful internal dialogue that said he’d never succeed in life. But The Salvation Army’s Hospitality Program in Wiarton, Ont., changed that by turning his doubts into self-confidence and, today, he has dreams, goals and is optimistic about his future.

“I didn’t complete high school,” says Zach. “I struggled to fit in―was painfully shy, unmotivated and suffered from social anxiety. I became addicted to hard drugs and had no reason to feel good about myself. I had no hope and thought my life was over. Then my mom heard about The Salvation Army’s Trades Start Program. I was hesitant to participate but it turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made.”

Trades Start is a 20-week skills trade program designed to help youth who are experiencing difficulties in high school, or who have recently finished school, develop a trade that could lead to a steady, skilled job. There are two streams in the program. Carpentry teaches students hands-on woodworking skills while making products such as wooden sheds, wishing wells and dog houses. Hospitality provides hands-on kitchen experience where students learn how to cook, clean and handle food safely. Basic life skills such as financial literacy, nutrition, building a resume, and job searching are also provided to students.

“Trades Start accepted me for me and helped develop my best traits,” says Zach. “People here believed in me. I never really had that before.”

The program recently added entrepreneurship to its curriculum, so Zach is now learning to develop a business plan, create design logos, choose a business name and more.

“This program changed my attitude and outlook on life,” says Zach. “I went from no goals or ambitions to seeing a future in the culinary field.”

Zach wants to help others who are struggling and hopeless. He has reached out to the Mayor of Wiarton to advocate for youth in the area and to increase awareness of drug issues.

“It takes a lot of courage for a young man to take this initiative to help bring change to his community,” says Beverly Dewit, program coordinator. “We are very proud of him and his accomplishments.”