ST. CATHARINES – Warren Witlox knew he needed a fire lit under him.

With a failed semester of school under his belt and no cash to pay for higher education, he figured he could use a helping hand sprucing up his work ethic.

Fast-forward to Friday, when Witlox graduated from the John Howard Society’s summer job placement program a wiser man. The 18-year-old says he’s learned how to motivate himself now, and he’s saved up money for school to boot.

“Basically I wanted to prove to myself and to other people that I’m more than they think I am,” he said.

Witlox, of St. Catharines, and about 200 other young people were feted Friday with a feast to honour their passing the society’s program. It’s aimed at helping at-risk kids aged 15 to 18 build skills and make connections.

Witlox knew going in he was at risk.

“When I was younger, I made some bad decisions. I failed half a semester of school,” he said. “I just didn’t have a lot of discipline.”

He wanted to show he wasn’t just an underachiever, so he tried the program after a friend suggested it. He wound up working at a West 49 store, where he learned to focus and relate to people.

“(I was) a slacker. I (had) trouble becoming motivated,” he said.

“When I do basically become motivated, I can do anything.”

Program manager Julie Morrison said the program targets kids across a broad spectrum. They could be skipping school or come from a low-income home, for instance.

They’re given 210 hours of work, taught life skills and engage in team-building exercises.

“It’s a transformation for many of them. They start to build self-confidence, self-image and self-worth.”

Morrison said the District School Board of Niagara grants kids who finish the program up to two credits.

“For some kids, those credits can move them one step closer to graduation,” she said.

That’s what brought Sydney McArthur to the program. The 18-year-old Grimsby resident said she was one credit short of graduation and didn’t have cash set aside for post-secondary education.

“This is basically me paying my way through school,” she said.

She said she worked at an art gallery and helped kids at summer camp. The experience boosted her work ethic, she said, and taught her that no matter what, you go into work.

“It definitely taught me a little bit more patience with kids, given that I had to be around them all day,” McArthur said.

Source: Welland Tribune