By Paul Williams

Diva Cobra
Click image to enlarge

A project to build sports cars from kits could carry hard-to-employ young people from the streets to steady automotive jobs, its organizers hope.

Scheduled to start in November, the Fast Track to Employment program is aimed at training homeless and at-risk youths by having them assemble replicas of the famous Cobra roadster.

“These kids represent some of the difficult cases that people hear about,” explains RYSE Director, Jan Sistek of Rideau Street Youth Enterprises, the non-profit agency behind the plan. “They’re the ones that people think, ‘something should be done,’ but it’s a challenge to develop effective programs for them.”

Three teams of five young people who will build Cobra kit-cars under the supervision of licensed technicians and trainers. The program will operate with federal and provincial government support to cover the training costs, although local employers in the automotive sector are being solicited to donate tools, car parts, work placements and cash to assist with the purchase of the vehicle components.

Already, Ottawa’s Lecavalier Auto/Truck Repair has made space available to RYSE in which the cars can be built. In addition, several employers and RYSE clients have expressed an interest in taking part.

A car buff, Mr. Sistek believes that Fast Track to Employment is an exciting idea that will motivate youth to sign up and stick with the 24-week program. Upon completion, a further 16 weeks of on-the-job training will be supplied with the help of local employers.

“The aim is for participants to recognize the opportunities available in the automotive sector, build their skills, and get them into employment,” said Mr. Sistek. “Maybe afterwards some will enrol in an automotive apprenticeship. That’s certainly something we can help with,” he added.

Participants will alternate between the classroom and the shop floor. Building a car from scratch will expose them to a range of technical skills found in the automotive trades, from auto body to mechanical service to driver training.

The kits will come from Diva Sportscars, an Ottawa-area custom car manufacturer. Major components, such as the engine and transmission, will be purchased ready-to-install. Diva Sportscars is donating windshields and optional hardtops.

The design of the kits is modelled on the famous Cobra cars of the 1960’s. The assembled vehicles will be turned over to charities, becoming part of their fund-raising programs. Diva Sportscars is donating the windshields and optional hardtops for the cars.

The assembled vehicles will be turned over to charities, becoming part of their fundraising programs.

A training allowance of $6.85 per hour will provide a steady income to participants, who can also expect help with work clothes and other necessities required to complete the program.

Participants will also receive comprehensive life skills training under the supervision of RYSE youth worker, Michelle Theriault. “It’s more than simply finding them work,” explains Ms.Theriault of the typical RYSE client. “Many disadvantaged youth lack social and parental supports. They may lack work experience and have issues with self-esteem, personal presentation, housing and health.”

To address these issues, Ms. Theriault is developing a plan that addresses the needs of each participant. “For many of our clients, a program like this is a lifeline. We’re providing job opportunities for a category of youth that employers may typically not consider.”

According to Mr. Sistek, many of the youth associated with RYSE are looking for a way to improve their circumstances. “We work with kids who are actually sleeping in parks and under bridges, yet they’re able to report for work at seven a.m. when given the opportunity. This will be a way for them to really get on their feet.”

Established in 1994 as a registered charity, RYSE has a successful history of operating programs for hard-to-serve youth. Its programs characteristically involve providing paid work that gives clients the means to access educational, employment and housing opportunities. Current and recent RYSE enterprises include recycling, landscaping, litter pickup and snow removal.

Fast Track organizers say they hope to enlist the support of community partners, from local garages, paint and body shops and driving schools, to dealerships and retail chains. If your company or agency would like to participate, phone RYSE at (613) 562-3864.

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