Teen Stop Jeunesse helps people find a job

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Kara Thiessen travels Winnipeg to clients’ homes with clippers and brushes that she uses to clean pet nails.

Not that long ago, the founder of Pretty Lil Paws had no high school diploma or vocational training.

“I had to be like, ‘Okay, what am I going to do? How am I going to get my 12th grade? ‘ ”Thiessen said. “I couldn’t find a suitable job.”

How to help

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The COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult to set a goal for this year’s United Way Winnipeg fundraising campaign.

“The needs are growing so rapidly that we need to collect as much as possible,” wrote Mona Gill, director of campaign development and partnerships for the organization, in a statement.

The entity funds more than 100 local non-profit associations.

People can donate by visiting the United Way Winnipeg website or by calling 204-477-UWAY.

Her mother told her about an adult education program at Teen Stop Jeunesse in St. Vital. So, in 2011, Thiessen, who was 20 at the time, enrolled in the program. She graduated in less than a year while battling cervical cancer.

She spent years as a cleaning lady before falling ill again: doctors discovered embolisms in her lungs. She recovered, but turned to Teen Stop Jeunesse, a new program she had started to help people find jobs.

“I felt like I had to do something for myself, so I went and took it,” Thiessen said.

There, in 2019, she learned skills for the job market and was placed in a dog daycare, her favorite internship. She kept a job there before turning to entrepreneurship, encouraged by the mentors of Teen Stop Jeunesse who consulted her continuously.

“They have been with me every step of the way,” Thiessen said, adding that they had boosted her confidence.

She still regularly discusses her business plans with the staff of Teen Stop Jeunesse.

“We go from A to B and then back to A,” she said. “It’s great to have them to talk to.”

The nonprofit, based on Chemin Sainte-Anne, is filling the gaps and making sure people have what they need, said CEO Pat LeBlanc.

The association mainly focuses on young people. However, he has extended his services to all ages.

“We thought the best way to help the kids in our programs was to help the whole family,” said LeBlanc. “We started an adult education center (in 2001) to get parents back to work and get them back to work.”

Teen Stop Jeunesse began an employment bridging program in 2019 due to a lack of such resources, LeBlanc said. Thirty-two participants have finished. Then the pandemic interrupted its operation.

“Our first experience made us realize that there are a lot more issues we have to deal with than just finding jobs,” said LeBlanc. “We have to deal with all these mental health issues and all these trust issues.”

LeBlanc also focuses on empowering its young visitors.

Teen Stop Jeunesse has a music studio, recreation room, homework club, life learning programs and other youth activities. The drop-in center helps marginalized members and newcomers to Winnipeg.

“A lot of the kids in our programs don’t feel like they’re seen as having skills,” said LeBlanc. “They were told no, because they live in poverty.”

He calls it a victory to see a person flourish and to realize that they can contribute to society.

“These kids who come in are seen at school as the least behaved kids … (and) they’re told they’ll never stand for anything,” LeBlanc said. “We treat them as if they are the most important child – because they are – on the planet.

“You wouldn’t believe how many of these kids we were able to get on the right track.”

Teen Stop Jeunesse works with up to 43 young people per evening during the school year. The number jumps to 52 in the summer.

Over the past two years, Teen Stop Jeunesse has had to close several times, but the programming has not stopped. There have been online cooking classes, Lego challenges, art sessions and more.

The site is currently open and the kids are back to record music, play table tennis and serve meals.

Teen Stop Jeunesse will be there as long as needed, LeBlanc said, and there is demand in southeast Winnipeg, despite what people may think.

“I discovered that Saint-Vital is filled with pockets of poverty that no one knew.”

The reception center receives funding from Centraide. The organization saved Teen Stop Jeunesse from bankruptcy in 1998, LeBlanc said.

“Anyone who supports United Way supports Teen Stop,” he said.

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Gabrielle Piché

Gabrielle Piché
Journalist

Gabby is a huge fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from the Creative Communications program at Red River College in the spring of 2020.

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