A program at George Brown College (GBC) is helping individuals with a history of mental illness or addiction overcome obstacles to get the education and training they need for a construction or culinary career.
The Augmented Education (Aug. Ed.) program is designed to help individuals prepare for, find and maintain employment in construction or culinary arts. It offers two streams of training: the Construction Craft Worker Foundations Program and the Culinary Skills (Preparatory Training) Program.
“It’s for people who have a history of mental health and addiction, that’s the only criteria you need to get into the program,” explained Suzanne De Freitas, program manager, Augmented Education and Hospitality Services at GBC. “We provide all the equipment they need: tool belt, tools, construction boots, uniform and transportation so they can get to school. Materials, textbooks, manuals, all those things mainstream students have to do on their own, we provide all that for our students.”
In partnership with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), the program is offered free of charge to participants and is funded with the help of government and fundraising efforts.
About 30 students are accepted into each program every year.
“They get a college education and a certification, they get help finding and maintaining employment, the confidence and esteem they get from finishing college and getting a job,” De Freitas said.
Upon successful completion students receive an Ontario College Certificate, about 10 certifications and assistance finding and retaining a job in the field.
“We always say once you’re in Aug. Ed., it’s a membership for life,” De Freitas said.
“It’s been proven that employment and being a productive part of society aids in the recovery process.”
Before being accepted, students undergo an academic assessment and a skills assessment in the lab.
“It’s not about weeding them out of being in the program, it just helps us to determine where we have to start our level of support which they need to be successful,” said De Freitas.
“We can provide the supports for academics and training at the college, we’re good at that, but we can’t provide medical training. We want to make sure they are connected to their social workers, psychiatrist and their medical team so if and when they do need help during the program there is someone to go to for that as well.
“We find if they have that and a stable home it’s a much higher rate of success for our students.”
The Food Court Social, which will be held Oct. 15, is a major fundraiser that generates funding through auctions, donations and sponsorships to help meet Aug. Ed.’s funding gap. Last year’s event raised about $290,000 to offset programming costs.
Unable to host an in-person event due to the pandemic, the seventh annual event, called the Food Court Social Distancing this year, will transform the event into a virtual culinary experience, bringing together Toronto’s top chefs and culinary talent.
Hosted by the GBC Foundation, the experience will feature a professional broadcast of chefs doing live demos on how to create their favourite dishes and the stories behind them, live entertainment and a virtual auction.
Some of the industry partners for this year’s Food Court Social Distancing event include PCL, Great Gulf, EllisDon, Coco Group, Central Ontario Building & Construction Trades Council, LiUNA Local183, Lions Homes, Tridel and the Residential Construction Council of Ontario.
“This program is aligned with our association’s access mission and provides students with a career pathway in construction that otherwise not be possible,” said James St. John, business manager and financial secretary with the COBT and director of Hammer Heads, in a statement. “Not unlike Hammer Heads, the Augmented Education Program is changing lives.”
Participants will receive “@Home Experience Kits” delivered a few days before the event and will have the opportunity to cook along with their favourite chefs as they prepare signature dishes. The event features a number of top chefs including John Higgins, David Wolfman and Lolita Richards.
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