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United Way mentoring initiative makes the most of high-tech help

Written by Jackie Burns
Published in The Toronto Star

Zakaria Abdulle faced some huge hurdles trying to figure out how to become his family’s “beacon of hope” as he grew up in the community housing complexes of Toronto’s Lawrence Heights neighbourhood.

“Growing up, my friends and I, we never had terms like ‘meaningful employment’ in our vernacular because we realized we didn’t really know the ‘somebodies’ of the world — and we were going to have to start from the bottom.”


Abdulle spoke passionately about the power of making these kinds of meaningful connections on Wednesday at the launch of netWORKS, a youth-focused networking and mentoring initiative for the Greater Toronto Area that taps into companies and organizations from across the region.

The pilot project is a partnership between United Way Toronto & York Region, CivicAction and, an online hub that connects young people seeking career opportunities with professionals in the field.


CivicAction CEO Sevaun Palvetzian said the Toronto region isn’t alone in facing the challenge of youth unemployment. “Around the world today, as many as one in four young people is not in education, is not in employment, is not in training,” she said. “We wanted to find new ways to tackle this old and big problem from some new angles.”

While Palvetzian said while the social costs of disengaged youth are more obvious, there is also a hard economic price to pay if young people don’t find their way: studies show, she noted, that it can cost more than $1 million per person over the course of their lifetime if they don’t get plugged into the working world.

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