Katimavik is back and is coming for your kids

The Katimavik program was started in 1977 as a youth employment strategy for young people ages 17 to 21, living and working together in communities across the country.

The program was cut in 2012 but the Canadian government announced on Jan. 16 the development of the new Canada Service Corps, which will include funding for youth-based services, including Katimavik.

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I was a participant in 2005-2006 and had an amazing experience.

At 18 years old, Katimavik gave me the opportunity to travel to Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland, working with non-profit community organizations and meeting people from different parts of the country with different backgrounds and even different languages.

At 18, I had a small view of the world. Katimavik expanded that view by showing me a different vantage point.

We were just one small piece of a large puzzle that has involved thousands of youth since 1977.

But participants are not the only ones who benefit from the program.

Diverse groups and organizations were the recipients of our volunteer hours. We held full-time volunteer positions with theatre groups, schools, daycares and service organizations such as United Way. We volunteered for side projects over the weekends or held participant-led workshops that focused on the environment, leadership or other educational goals of the program.

There is a playground in Shawinigan, Que. that was brighter for the weekend we spent painting it.

There were kids at a camp who had their summer improved by our visit.

The Stephenville Lions Club was richer for our participation in their fundraisers.

These kinds of benefits are hard to see when you only look at the bottom line.

According to the 2011-2012 annual report, the final report on the program, over 1,000 youth between the ages of 17 and 21 participated in 54 communities across Canada.

During that program year, according to the report,“Katimavik provided over 600 not-for-profit organizations with nearly 660,000 hours of service to benefit those communities.”

The report concluded that, for every dollar invested into the program, communities where Katimavik operated saw a return was $2.20.

In March 2012, the government cut the program.

The cut came two years into a three-year funding promise, almost immediately after a government review praised the program.

The program had been funded by the Ministry of Canadian Heritage. Then-Heritage Minister James Moore said that cutting funding for Katimavik was the easiest decision he ever made.

The decision led to some intent backlash, with people both inside and outside the Katimavik world taking a stand for the program.

Miles Corak wrote an article in The Globe and Mail, “Ottawa killed Katimavik – and missed boat on youth jobs strategy.” In it, he took the government to task.

“The recent federal budget was an opportunity to redefine, re-orientate, and yes expand this program by directing it toward labour market objectives,” he wrote.

Opposition NDP and Liberal parties also decried the elimination of the program.

Both went to bat for the program, noting the benefits to Canadian youth.

“Katimavik shows youth that they do matter and that they can make a difference,” said New Democrat MP Charmaine Borg (Terrebonne-Blainville). “It builds responsible, engaged citizens. I feel that it is important to save this program, as it offers English Canadians and Québécois the opportunity to learn each other’s languages and live and breathe each other’s cultures.”

As someone who benefited greatly from the program, the fact that new funding has been established means that young people will again be able to benefit from the program.

Justin Trudeau, who was MP for Papineau-Quebec at the time of the cuts, was a former chairman of the Katimavik board.

“We will invest $25 million per year in a restored Youth Service Program, to give young Canadians valuable work and life experience, and provide communities with the help required for much-needed projects,” said Trudeau in a Liberal.ca press release.

For critics who were saying at the time of the cuts that the program spent too much money, this time around participants will have to contribute $1,000 worth of fundraising to take part in the program.

While this may be necessary, no one can say yet if that might deter low-income youth from applying.

However we go forward with the program, I am still very grateful to everyone who fought to bring the program back.

At least we can say we are going forward.

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