VANCOUVER/WINNIPEG - Increasingly mobile phones are becoming a lifeline to employment and services. To help at-risk and homeless youth Virgin Mobile Canada and Virgin Unite, the non-profit foundation of the Virgin Group, have launched a new initiative called Phones for Change. The program has partnered with Vancouver's Broadway Youth Resource Centre (BYRC) and Winnipeg's Resource Assistance for Youth (RaY), to give at-risk and homeless youth access to Virgin mobile phones and plans. At the same time is educates them on the importance of financial management and how to escape the cycle of debt.
"I've always said that we should be using our businesses to create a lasting impact in this world - and this program does just that," said Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group. "With at-risk and homeless youth having so much to go without, a mobile phone is more than just an accessory - it's their lifeline to employment and services."
The Phones For Change program teaches transitioning youth how to develop life and financial management skills. Youth nominated by each organization will receive a Virgin Mobile phone that offers a method of contact with employers, potential landlords, friends and support services. The pilot program will run for one year in Vancouver and Winnipeg with the goal of expanding to more markets in 2013.
"Our goal with Phones for Change is to improve the lives of at-risk and homeless youth," says Andrew Bridge, managing director, Virgin Mobile Canada. "When we heard from our partners that phones can be such a lifeline for youth, it just made sense to find a way to help and build a program that could address this. As we see the impact that this pilot program can create, we hope to expand it even further in coming years."
In the coming months, youth from each organization will be screened for eligibility. Once nominated, youth receive a Virgin Mobile phone which includes a low cost monthly plan to meet their specific needs. While the plans are provided free of charge by Virgin Mobile, each organization will set up monthly bills that the youth are responsible for. The local organization will then use those monthly payments to contribute to the youth's pre-existing debt.
In addition to providing the phones and services, Virgin Mobile & Virgin Unite's RE Generation will make social investments in each organization to support financial training and personal budgeting programs. While youth who are part of Phones for Change are asked to participate in these programs, the training program will be open to any youth who work with the local organization.
"Phones for Change can open new doors for youth involved in our program," said Jocelyn Helland, manager of the Broadway Youth Resource Centre. "At Broadway Youth Resource Centre, we offer almost every kind of support for at-risk and homeless youth; and now we can add financial literacy and debt support to the mix. With this program, they will get the support and tools they need to move on to the bigger and brighter futures they deserve."
"This not only gives street youth a lifeline to safety, but also an opportunity to learn financial literacy. Our thanks goes out to Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Unite and Virgin Mobile for thinking outside the box,” said Kelly Holmes, executive director, Resource Assistance for Youth.