Young people create in the spirit of Christmas

On Wednesday, Elizabeth Itsi, 29, slaved in a kitchen cooking Christmas dinner for 90 people. “We’ve been going like this since 10 this…

On Wednesday, Elizabeth Itsi, 29, slaved in a kitchen cooking Christmas dinner for 90 people.

“We’ve been going like this since 10 this morning and (the dinner) starts at six, so I think everything will be prepared,” said Itsi while mixing a vat of macaroni salad.

She is one of 20 Yukon College Working and Leading students who offered to cook dinner for the youth, their friends and family at Blue Feather Youth Centre.

The dinner was a turkey feast with all the trimmings. Santa arrived bearing gifts for all the younger kids.

This dinner was part of a community service project that some of the Working and Leading students participated in.

Working and Leading is funded by Service Canada and has been in place for four years.

“Part of the program — the students are involved in a community project and they’ve been involved in a number of projects throughout the semester,” said Marius Curteanu, a college instructor.

“So, organizing a Christmas dinner for ‘youth at risk’ or unfortunate youth — youth that cannot afford to celebrate the season — it’s become almost a tradition in the sense that we organized this dinner for the past three years.”

The Working and Leading students plan the entire dinner, from the initial idea to the fundraising and approaching businesses for food and toy donations.

“The students have been involved with the whole process — writing letters, approaching the managers, organizing, buying all the goods for this event and, as you can see now, they’re involved in the cooking and preparing of the food and, at six o’clock, we will have a great feast,” said Curteanu earlier that afternoon.

After the feast, music was played, gifts were given and the leftovers were packaged to be served to Blue Feather Youth over the next few days.

Working and Leading is a program for young people between the ages of 15 and 30 who have been out of the school system or workforce for at least six months.

“So basically, for the last half a year, they’ve been nowhere and our program is 15 weeks long and we have a number of components from building self-esteem to life skills, lots of employment workshops, career development,” said Curteanu.

“Those people are mostly people who have been in trouble with the law. They’ve been referred by the courts or probation officers and most of them at the end of the program they change their view about life, change their views about the community.

“They develop leadership skills and are very well prepared for the labour market and we were told by Service Canada that our program was number-one youth program in Canada.”

The program is a success, said Curteanu.

After the 15 weeks, 85 per cent of the participants are either involved in further training, upgrading their schooling or employed, he said.