CONCORDIA Vocational School: A real chance for vulnerable youths
Ploiești. Romania. 2022
37 youths, ages between 18 and 25, stepped through the CONCORDIA Vocational School door on September 5th, with hope in their souls, curiosity in their minds, and a bit of fear of the unknown. They would spend the next 9 months in an educational campus where they will learn a job, acquire independent lifestyle abilities and at the end they will receive a diploma. Most of them come from the social protection system: placement centers, family type houses, or foster care. Besides the luggage with personal belongings for their new life in the innovative campus, they carry a heavier luggage-their stories are scattered with abandonment or rejection traumas, abuses, as they lived without their natural families for different reasons.
Once they pass through the educational campus established by CONCORDIA Humanitarian Organization gates, a good feeling invades them and they are welcomed with good will smiles. Because what makes this place special is the gratitude of having been helped and the joy of helping.
The 37 life stories have reached a point when they will blend with the story of EDU-CAMPUS CONCORDIA, a story that began more than 30 years ago. Back then, 84 abandoned children were raised there in 7 family type groups. As the children grew older, the need for solutions for their adult lives was observed. And the solution came in 2009: establishing a Vocational School, with an emphasis on learning a professional specialty and also developing independent lifestyle abilities.
In 2022 CONCORDIA Vocational School has become a unique educational model in Romania. Its educational palette now includes new types of training adapted to young people's needs. Because life on your own is hard even if you have family support, but when you are by yourself, you need a stronger package of skills to survive.
CONCORDIA Vocational School offers inclusive professional development to a maximum of 45 youths annually for a duration of 9 months, starting in September and ending in May of the next year. The young people can choose between one of the specialties: baker, cook, waiter, or gardener. During the time spent in training, they receive a large assortment of FREE services: accommodation, meals, free time entertaining activities, psychological counseling, medical care. But what really makes special this program is the `School for Life` concept, an educational approach that aims to build those skills needed when they will make their first steps in the independent life, that comprises subjects such as vocational counseling, financial education, personal development, health education, applied math and English language.
The needs of the youths coming from vulnerable backgrounds require special attention, and analyzing each individual situation is a priority for the Vocational School teachers. They have spent most of their lives in the social protection system, in different life situations, and most of them don’t have a happy story. Sometimes their emotional or cognitive development is much lower than their physical age and, without a parent involved to teach them skills such as washing their clothes, grocery shopping, cooking for themselves, or taking the bus and reaching from point A to point B, they would find it hard to integrate into society.
In order to mitigate the gap between where they are vs. where they should be in terms of independent lifestyle abilities, the Case Management system was implemented. What does this mean? Every employee who comes into direct contact with young people, be it a trainer, teacher, psychologist, social worker, or medical assistant, observes the behavior of each young person, his needs, and abilities. Periodically, there are Case Management meetings in which CONCORDIA employees discuss the situation of each young person individually in the multidisciplinary team and then develop an integrated development plan, individually adapted to each student. Thus, there are cases where students are supported to learn to continue their studies in university education or perhaps to solve various family problems.
The School for Life completes the professional training and addresses the independent lifetime skills and offers them the practical knowledge required for them to be able to obtain a job after an interview, to practice their job successfully, and to maintain their jobs for a longer time while their social life is also in balance.
During the financial education practical classes, they learn how to manage a small budget, how to use bank services, and how to make contracts with the suppliers of different services required in a home (energy, internet, gas, etc.).
Vocational counseling is the training where they learn how to write a CV, apply for an interview, manage their relationships with colleagues and employers, and participate in external internships at local businesses, after which they usually are also offered a job. The youths are accompanied step by step in the process of finding and maintaining a job and identifying a place to live. Vocational counselors will maintain contact at least 6 months after the training is finalized in order to ensure that the youth are well established on their own, coaching them beyond the training program. Since 2010, 364 young people have graduated from one of the CONCORDIA Vocational School courses, and 80% have kept their job with the same employer for more than 6 months.
During the applied Math and English classes, the youth acquire practical knowledge needed to practice their job. For example, the cooks will mostly learn the English vocabulary needed in the kitchen, while during the Math’s class they will work a lot with weighting and calculating measurement units of ingredients needed in different receipts. Similarly, the classes of the other specialties are designed taking into consideration their future professional lives.
The Personal Developmentgroups are led by psychologists and focus on the individual's development, by supporting the youth to know themselves better, to acknowledge their super powers and use them in their daily life, while also working to mitigate their weaknesses. The trainers' main focus is on developing confidence and self-esteem, and when appropriate, the young students can continue their self-work during one-on-one therapy sessions.
Through the health educationpractical training, the students learn how to be in contact with their bodies, how to build and maintain a healthy lifestyle, with a focus on proper nutrition and hygiene.
Beyond the class work provided by the trainers, during the free time, with the support of the social pedagogues, the young people are supported daily and thought different abilities like cleaning the living spaces, cooking for themselves or doing laundry. The emotional support provided throughout the processes is critical to achieving and maintaining independent lifestyle skills.
CONCORDIA Youth Transit Centre
Sometimes, 9 months is not enough to make up for 18 years of emotional, cognitive, and psychological shortages. And, as CONCORDIA builds its projects always having in mind the needs of its beneficiaries, in 2021, another project was set up in order to support the youth that still need one more helping hand: The Youth Transit Center, a social service that is located on the same campus.
The purpose of the center is the socio-professional integration or reintegration of youths in need and also to build up their independent lifestyle abilities. With a limited accommodation period of 6 to 12 months, the center offers a large range of services for young people who are not quite ready to live on their own. Compared to the living conditions in the Vocational School, within the transit center, the youths are semi-independent and independent. They are provided with the necessary conditions, but they have to manage themselves, without supervision, in terms of providing their own aliments, cooking, and cleaning. The youths living in the Transit Centre are supposed to have a job already, and they can save money for their future independent life.
`For me, the opportunities offered by CONCORDIA Vocational School, were a life changer. Not only that I learned a profession, but I was encouraged that I can have a good future even if I had a troubled childhood and I have a walking handicap. Now, I have a permanent job for two years and CONCORDIA still supports me with accommodation until I will be able to raise some money for myself to pay rent and have my own family. ` tells Ionuț, a young man who finalized the cook’s workshop three years ago.
The campus personnel are always happy to hear how their work has impacted the lives of youth in need and the smiles of the former beneficiaries are the best price the time offers.