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By Chris Marchand
A program designed to help urban Indigenous single mothers enhance their lives and better their long-term prospects was launched this past week in Dryden.
The Dryden Urban Indigenous Homeward Bound Project is a collaboration between the Dryden Native Friendship Centre, The Kenora District Services Board (KDSB), Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services, The Dryden Literacy Association, Confederation College and The City of Dryden.
Adapted from a similar program in Scarborough, Kenora District Services Board CAO Henry Wall says the program’s holistic approach is designed to close the gaps that struggling single parents often fall through with overlapping levels of support in housing, education upgrades, post-secondary studies, child care and mentorship, among others.
“We knew from the onset that this was the right thing to do,” said Wall. “We’re done being about parking families in poverty. We’re getting them halfway across the ditch, but the fact is they’re still in the ditch. That’s not a slight on any one program, but that’s what happens when we do things in isolation.”
In the spring, construction will begin to retrofit the former Pinewood School into 15 family units with common areas, a project that’s expected to be complete in the fall of 2018.
After a tumultuous episode in 2012 which saw Keewaytinook Okimakanak and the Keewatin-Patricia District School (KPDSB) withdraw plans for a transitional high school program for First Nations students from remote communities in the Pinewood building over public unease with the proposal, KDSB Community Services Manager Josee Mantle says a thorough effort to explain the Homeward Bound program to neighbours took place prior to their successful rezoning application to the city.
“When we reached out to neighbours I can tell you that, even if there was some hesitation or anxiety, they gave us the opportunity to speak to them and truly respected what we were doing,” said Mantle. “The common thread was, ‘I think it’s great, these people will be supported’.”
The program is open to urban Indigenous women in the Dryden area who are: 19 or older with at least one child 17 and under living with them, who have a high school diploma or equivalent, who are ready to enter college level academics within 6-8 months, who are underemployed or unemployed, who have no current criminal proceedings, and who are able to commit to the full-time program.
Phase one involves a 20-week course led by the Dryden Literacy Association involving academic upgrades, financial literacy, computer skills, cultural teachings and life skills.
Phase two sees program participants enter the college diploma program of their choice over the next one to two years.
Phase three is a one year internship/apprenticeship period to help participants gain on the job experience in their chosen profession.
The final phase of the program sees the Homeward Bound participant achieve full-time employment and benefit from supports as they transition into their new lives and take on mentor roles to new participants.
While the program is now accepting applications from prospective participants for a mid-April start, Dryden Native Friendship Centre’s Sally Ledger says they’ve yet to source operational funding for a multi-year program.
“To this day we’re still pursuing those operational dollars,” said Ledger. “We have some places in mind, so we’ll continue searching.”