'I can carve my own path:' Mechanic shop provides employment to at-risk youth

A Calgary mechanic is repairing more than just engines.

He's working with at-risk youth who don't have fathers to help them succeed, giving back for the help he received in his formative years.

The program is called Father and Sons Small Engine Services.

"We hire, train, certify youth at risk, kids that have barriers to employment. In large part, children that don't have a positive role model in their fathers,"  said founder Jason De Leeuw. "So, Father & Sons was created in order to give a positive outside mentorship from a father-like figure and develop skills in the workplace for youth that have barriers to employment."

The employees do everything from finances to customer service, and pick up a skilled trade — small engine and equipment repair. 

"When I was a little bit younger, 16 or so, my father passed away. It was kind of a rough time. I ended up in group homes, and I had a couple brief stays at a shelter," said mechanic Tim Skyrie, now in his early 20s. "And I found myself with my first house working a part-time dead end job with really no skills. 

Monty Kruger/CBC

De Leeuw gave Skyrie a chance.

"That was a big realization for me, is that I have options. And that wasn't something that I really felt before," Skyrie said. "I felt like life was something that kind of happens to me. Do you know what I mean? Now I feel like I have more say over it. I can carve my own path if I choose, if I work hard enough."

De Leeuw said he himself was once a troubled youth and knows it's possible to turn things around, with a little support.

"A criminal background means very little to me. If an individual has shown a true turning around, or a true desire to change their life, then that's what we need in order for them to be successful," he said. "I was a youth at risk myself. I had barriers to employment myself. I had issues that I needed assistance with."

Monty Kruger/CBC

De Leeuw lost his father to health issues for most of his adolescence, and by the age of 19, he was inflicting self-harm. 

"And had I not had somebody come alongside me and bring me out of that, I probably would have committed suicide myself."

De Leeuw said mentorship was the thing that helped him change his own life, and he wants to do the same for others.

"I found that after there was sustainable mentorship from the outside, positive influences in my life, that it effectively changed the course of my history," he said.

Monty Kruger/CBC

Skyrie said the opportunity has changed the way he looks at himself.

He's more independent and has taken a money management course. 

"I feel like I've matured quite a bit since being young and mad at the system, and mad at God, and all that kind of stuff," he said. "I've settled down a little bit more. I'm a little bit more comfortable in my own skin."

Skyrie said he's looking forward to paying it forward someday.

"Life is kind of what you make it," he said.