Choices for Youth (CFY), a non-profit organization that offers young adults a variety of services, including training for jobs in construction, is in expansion mode, repurposing a 16,000-square-foot century-old abandoned gas station in the west end of St. John’s to house its education, employment training and social enterprise programs.
Northbrook Construction Ltd. of St. John’s is leading the renovation, but CFY isn’t standing on the sidelines. Impact Construction, “a robust construction social enterprise” operated by CFY is subcontracting to do interior tearout work, says Mari-Lynn Taylor, manager of education, employment and social enterprise at CFY.
A licensed construction company, Impact Construction employs eight former trainees from the non-profit’s construction training program. The company does jobs big and small in St. John’s. New employees usually go to simple projects such as building decks or fences, says Taylor.
“One of the goals with our new building is to expand training so people can move quicker from starter projects into bigger work such as rebuilds for affordable housing,” she says.
In decades past CFY’s mandate was primarily to address social issues such as homelessness and youth addictions but “quietly” the non-profit has been growing its social enterprise network that along with Impact Construction includes a bakery, pizzeria and thrift shop.
The new facility doubles CFY’s overall space.
Held three to four times annually and open to anyone 16 to 29 years old, the construction training aims to help young adults get a fresh start.
Training is from two to six weeks in class where participants learn how to operate tools, do basic carpentry and construction and achieve requisite health and safety certifications. Successful students can then apply for work for Impact Construction.
Trainers at the non-profit come with plenty of experience in the trades and a number of them are Red Seal certified.
“Our current training space is bursting at the seams. We need this building to hire more trainers so we can take on more trainees,” Taylor says.
Taylor says about 100 trainees have gone through over the past six years.
Because some of the trainees see work in the building trades only as a step to getting on their feet before going back to school, CFY offers assistance with GED academic testing to prepare them for post-secondary admissions.
“That way they can get their schooling while still bringing home a paycheque.”
Taylor describes their new home, which had operated as the Avalon Garage and Service Station, as an Art Deco gem. The façade of the 1920s structure will be preserved and highlighted with an EIFS colour scheme “to play up the Art Deco movement and shape of the building.”
“We want to keep the interior as industrial as possible to make it clear to visitors that this used to be a garage.”
Funding support for CFY’s new building is through the City of St. John’s, provincial and federal agencies, the Home Depot Foundation and revenues from CFY’s social enterprise operations.
Taylor says she would like to see Impact Construction expand its reach beyond St. John’s into rural communities in the province.
“There is construction out there and there are more youth employment issues out there that we could help address.”
She says the organization keeps tabs on young trainees for up to two years after they have gone on to jobs in case they need any follow-up assistance.
The renovation project is expected to be completed next summer.