Vulnerable youth empowered with entrepreneurship and behaviour modification skills through VM Foundation's Project IMPACT
Representatives from partnering agencies, facilitators and participants engage in a photo opportunity following the closing ceremony for the VM Foundation's Project IMPACT initiative on March 12 at the VM Group corporate office on Half-Way-Tree Road.

Fourteen young people from vulnerable communities in Kingston graduated from the VM Foundation's Project IMPACT initiative on March 12, more empowered to operate their own businesses and transform their lives.

Project IMPACT was a partnership between the VM Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through its Local Partner Development (LPD) programme, which exposed participants to weekly training sessions focused on entrepreneurship and business development, conflict resolution and behaviour modification, as well as financial literacy and positive money management.

Speaking at the closing ceremony, CEO of VM Foundation Samantha Charles noted that while the foundation has a legacy of working to achieve youth development, this particular initiative had a more deliberate focus.

"Our objective was to deliver a programme that had all the tenets of sustainability and be developmental in nature and so we dubbed it Project IMPACT. What we did was to give them a very wholesome experience that was not limited to entrepreneurship training. It was important that they upgraded their personal skills in terms of uplifting self, improved and enhanced their behaviour, as well as learn good business and financial skills to support them as they go out to own, operate and sustain their own businesses. We wanted them to see the possibilities of what they can become when they are engaged and have the relevant knowledge to help them become better individuals."

Recounting some of the encouraging conversations that she had with participants during the programme, chief of party for the USAID's LPD programme, Morana Smodlaka Krajnovic reinforced the fact that at-risk youth need more targeted solutions to help transform their lives.

"It does take a village. What the USAID encourages is the concept of 'community' whereby organisations, institutions, community groups, and individuals continuously come together to implement solutions to help make this land we love a better and safer place. The facilitators took great care to nourish the participants' minds and souls, showing them that we cared and we were confident in how much they could achieve, if they just got a start."

The graduates hailed the project as a worthwhile investment and shared during one of the recent training sessions that they had already started to see tangible results and would recommend similar initiatives to their peers.

Omario Clarke, a beneficiary of the programme, said, "I joined as I saw it as an opportunity to improve my life standard. I have been exposed to information that I did not have access to before, which I can use in developing my business as well as in everyday life. For example, I had issues with poor money management, and I have learnt a lot about savings so now I think differently about how I use any money I might have and try to use it wisely."

Fellow participant Fabian Roberts agreed, and disclosed that he has also benefited tremendously from the conflict resolution and stress management sessions. "Learning about respect was the biggest thing for me because I was always arguing with my passengers, as I am a bus conductor. Now I know that if I respect myself and others I don't always have to answer or, even if I answer, I learn how to better address them. I can understand if my answer will be coming from a place of anger and adjust how I respond to others."

Another participant, Kemoy Frazer, shared her experience saying, "Usually I would be sitting home doing nothing, however I have learnt so many things to benefit my life and I like how the people mesh and communicate with you. You don't always get people who approach you nicely and seem to genuinely care about you so it feels good, and I would recommend this programme to other persons if it were to happen again."

Guest speaker at the closing ceremony, CEO of VM Money Transfer Services Michael Howard encouraged the participants to make good use of the opportunity given to them through Project IMPACT, sharing his personal story of rising above adversities as a young man who grew up in a community similar to theirs.

"When I left high school with limited subjects I couldn't get a job and my mother did not have the finances to continue to support me. A family friend eventually took a chance on me, and I got an entry-level job. I never looked back. Please take the chances offered and use them as stepping stones out of your current situation. It is up to you to learn and apply yourself so that you can turn those chances into worthwhile experiences and start the journey of transformation. Remember your purpose, prepare adequately, be persistent and determined, and pace yourselves. On your journey, constantly evaluate how far you have come but keep your eyes on the prize and be confident in your abilities."

Participants were exposed to various business ventures and were required to develop working business plans. They are also being furnished with the equipment and supplies necessary to operate these businesses.

CEO of the VM Group and chairman of the VM Foundation Courtney Campbell charged them to remain humble and to serve their customers and communities with integrity.

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