The County Supporting Youth Retention and Career Opportunities in PEC

Written by Jan Davies

If a program called YES sounds upbeat and encouraging, that’s because it is. The program aims to foster  Youth Entrepreneur Success and is run by ROC – which stands for Recreation Outreach Centre. Founded in  2000, it’s a registered charity serving the needs of young people aged 6 to 18 in Prince Edward County, promoting health and well-being, community engagement and other good things. ROC could also stand for Relationships, Opportunities and Connections – good things the organization offers local kids. But where does Entrepreneurship fit in?

Lesley Lavender, Community Resource  Development Coordinator explains. “We’re always expanding our programs, and this one came about when we recognized a need to show young people that entrepreneurial opportunities exist in Prince Edward County. The high school already runs Entrepreneur classes, the Municipality is now focused on youth retention, and we knew we could help. ROC works well with young people, and we love partnering with anybody trying to help them. The Community & Economic Development Commission (CEDC) had formally identified youth retention and youth entrepreneurship as a priority and was now looking at what services already exist that they could build on. The ROC was an obvious partner with a good network in the community and with small businesses. This YES program has deepened our relationship with local business and given it immediate purpose.”


How do you reach County youth? At school. The ROC was already active and engaged at PECI (Prince Edward Collegiate Institute) through regular programs held there – our people hang out with their people and with the kids.

“To back up a little, The ROC’s mission is to provide opportunities and mentorship to help foster social and personal development for young people in The County. Our youth centre is equal opportunity, all inclusive. It’s a safe space and it’s free. We want to help youth develop self-advocacy skills and an empowered voice. We listen to what they say, we know what they are interested in. We can tailor programs and get genuine buy-in from them because they feel ownership of their programs. We’re all about community engagement, too, involving kids in things that impact themselves and other people. Most of all we show them what’s possible and offer resources to help reach their potential.”


“The key word is entrepreneurship, and that involves learning skills, networking and getting exposure to the business community. That’s something most kids don’t experience.  One of our first YES events was when 12 kids “took over” the County Canteen for an evening. They worked with the owners and staff for 12 hours over a couple of weeks to see the inner workings of the business, work behind the scenes,  learn some hospitality skills. On the night, the kids worked front of house, back of house, served the food and provided the entertainment. They felt the pressure and the responsibility, and also the success and satisfaction. In fact two kids are now working for the owner Nat Wollenberg. Another great event was producing the ROC’in Revue at The Regent Theatre, working with Mrs. Koutroulides’ Entrepreneurship Class from PECI. The students did everything, with our guidance, from fundraising, marketing and promotion to helping get a Lottery License for the event. They were the performers, and they handled the admin, stage production, the whole enchilada. It was a great project with lots of community engagement.”


So far we have done two great bus trips around The County to visit local businesses. We focused on young entrepreneurs who chose to open businesses here – some were from away, others were PECI graduates who had returned to The County. About 30 students got face time with owners and workers at businesses including KA Media, a dynamic young company, The Old Greenhouse Ice Cream shop and Nurseland Farms, a farm that is digitally run. The kids looked and listened and learned and did some hands-on work, too.  The second tour in Autumn incorporated all we’d learned from the first trip.

The trips achieved the YES program aims: to inspire entrepreneurship with a view to retaining our young people and to open the kids’ eyes to things happening in Prince Edward County. Because they don’t always recognize that career opportunities do exist here. Meeting these successful people in a concentrated way, in one day, and hearing WHY they chose to open their business here showed the kids there might be a way for them to pursue their passions and interests here.


“This year we’re really embedding the YES program into the high school, bringing in business owners. For instance, Danielle Morton from Titan Combat Fitness was very motivational. She talked about “diversifying your potential.” It really embodies the spirit of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs have passion and commitment and the drive to make something work. It’s not just about money. They must make sure their employees are secure. Danielle talked about possibilities and showed the kids they might have strengths they haven’t discovered yet that they can turn into viable businesses.”

“We had Alex Fida talking about The Hubb and his House of Falconer  and all his challenges. Joel Porritt, a trades apprentice from Loyalist College(PECI graduate as well as a Loyalist) who was in The County to work with Stormy’s came to talk to the kids, and, when we visited Stormy’s on the second bus trip, they could really relate because Joel was there. Carlyn Moulton from Oeno Gallery came to talk about Arts businesses in The County, and we plan to go into that in more depth in 2018. We’ve had Kelly Taylor, a freelance photographer who runs a class on Starting a Business. Soon we’ll welcome Trevor Crowe – a videographer and an architect of this very website! Ron Colucci, a CPA, will talk about the financial side of things, and Marissa Burley from PELA CFDC will talk about government grants.  We work well with the school because we want the same thing, to help young people succeed. Kudos to PECI for encouraging students to meet real working people. Teachers like Greer Koutrilides and Rob Garden help us stay relevant to their curriculum. It’s not just fun, you know!


“Soft skills, like customer service, are important. That’s why we encourage the kids to take responsibility for projects. This summer we did a hot dog cart. PELA CFDC put us in touch with Willydogs food carts who helped out so we didn’t have to buy a cart, Mike Payette, who runs Giant Tiger in Picton, gave us space in the car park for a couple of hours each day – and that’s valuable real estate in August! Seven kids did a food handling course at the Health Unit and got a certificate that is good for five years, something to add to their resume. With our support they did everything from the finances to serving the hot dogs and they got work experience, and they had all the responsibility for food handling, money handling, cleanliness and customer service. They didn’t make very much! But that’s not the only measure of success. They made good connections and they were proud.”


“We help kids write resumes and prepare for interviews, and we coach them in the soft skills. For example, recently a boy dropped into the centre while on his way to an job interview. He was nervous and we went over a few things. I reminded him, “When the interviewer approaches you, take your hat off, introduce yourself, look him in the eyes and shake his hand.” He did just that and came booming back in here afterwards to saying  “he’d got the job!”. They hired him on the spot. It’s those little soft skills, gentlemanly things that used to be more common and still make an impression. Take your hat off when you’re speaking to a grown-up. It’s first impressions. Look them in the eye. It’s not what got him hired, but I’m sure it helped. Kids need that direction.”


When we visited Stormy’s, where the apprentice Joel was working, the kids did some hands-on stuff in the workshop, changing oil, changing tires, and they felt the camaraderie in that workplace. The quote of the day came from one of the girls. “I was kind of interested in the trades, but I never realized how much I’d enjoy really doing this kind of stuff.” Without YES, she might never have had the opportunity to see, much less work in, that kind of environment.


We are partnering with Loyalist College and its Trades Department and will do some things there through Winter and Spring. We’re planning a bus tour to arts-based businesses, maybe tour galleries and learn about artist-in-residence opportunities which will let us involve not just the high school business classes but arts and drama classes, too. Entrepreneurship is not just about retail or service. Art is a booming business in PEC. We’ll explore how to apply business principles to a creative venture.

The good news is that local business owners are now coming to us. They want to be involved in the YES program, they’re asking how they can help and they’re clearly interested in talking to the young people. Parsons Brewery in particular was very encouraging, saying they will be expanding and looking for employees next year and talking about opportunities. There’s room for growth in YES, and we are listening to what the kids want, what they’re looking for and what they feel will benefit them. We have only scratched the surface of opportunities in Prince Edward County, because there is so much going on here. Are we excited about it?  YES!