June 11, 2004

When Muskoka Youth Ventures (a division of the Muskoka Community Futures Development Corporation) started delivering youth outreach programs, they were more than pleased with the comments they received from participants.  Geared to youth from grades 5 through to age 30, these wide-ranging programs operate with the support of volunteers, mentors from the business community, and educators.  Just read what a few inspiring 10-year-old entrepreneurs had to say about an in-school session they participated in on operating your own business:
“I enjoyed the Junior Achievement Program.  I learned a lot of stuff and I had fun.  I think when I get older, I am going to open an art store.  Maybe I will call it Beautiful Art.  I hope that I see you at it.”
“Thank you.  I think everybody had a great time.  I especially did.  I’ve just opened a partnership shoveling driveways.  My telephone number is 666-0000.”
Susan Parrett, Program Manager for Muskoka Youth Ventures, feels very privileged to be able to work in such an enthusiastic environment every day.  “It’s responses like these that make you feel you are making a real difference.  The youth of our community have opened our eyes and inspired us to continue to make our programs the best they can be.”
Muskoka Youth Ventures has three main objectives:  to help instilling the entrepreneurial spirit in young people; to help reverse the youth migration trend; and to enhance Muskoka's economy.  Their programs include:  Junior Achievement; Business Plan Challenge; Youth Entrpreneur Program; and the Muskoka Community Business and Resource Centre.  Each program serves to reach youth on a different level.  The Young Entrepreneur Program, for example, is a comprehensive business program with education components for out-of-school youth ages 18-30, who have a strong desire to start their own business.  Students participating in the Junior Achievement Program learn about the benefits of a high school diploma and are introduced to basic business concepts.  The Business Plan Challenge is an award competition for high school students to develop an original business idea.
Much of the program’s success is attributed to the efforts of its partners.  These combined efforts have allowed Muskoka Youth Ventures to implement and deliver in-school programs to between 800 - 1000 students each year.  Business Community Volunteer Jerry Moroz of Dura Automotive Systems Inc., one of the areas largest private industries, says, “Muskoka Youth Venture programs are one way for us to get the message out to youth that, if they don’t stay in school, they simply won’t have a chance at a good paying job at the end of the day.  Kids are sometimes surprised to learn that Dura will not hire anyone to work anywhere in its plant if they don’t have a minimum of a Grade 12 education.  It’s so important to open their eyes while they’re still young.”
Muskoka Youth Ventures first ran a pilot project with 255 students in the spring of 2001.  In March of 2003, it received additional funds from FedNor and the Ontario Ministry of Housing and Rural Affairs to keep the program going.  Parrett says, “We couldn’t run this program without our funding sources and our partners.  We firmly believe that we have to build our community together, with a common vision.  Our future economy depends on us recognizing the importance of fostering environments in which innovative learning flourishes, and by investing in our youth now.  This is a win-win situation for everyone.”