Suits for Youth becomes Oshawa’s newest initiative

Prom night can be expensive, which is why Oshawa city councillor Rick Kerr, members of the Durham Regional Police Services (DRPS) and the Oshawa Centre have begun a Suits for Youth program.

Kerr talked about the program at a city council meeting March 19.

The event takes place in mid-April at the Oshawa Centre. Kerr says he brought it up at this council meeting because this week kicks off the donation campaign for the initiative. People who want to donate can give suits, ties, shoes and pants.

Kerr says Suits for Youth is a modelled after the annual Gowns for Girls program which began in 2014, organized by DRPS Const. Joylene MacNeil. 

In Gowns for Girls, girls who can’t afford the items needed for their prom can get them for free and afford to attend a milestone in their lives. The first event saw 75 girls come in 2014 and by 2016 the number had grown to 500 girls, according to a March 2017 media report.

Kerr says Suits for Youth goes two steps further because it’s non-gendered, meaning if a female wants to wear a suit to prom and take her partner, she can.

The second reason is because the suits don’t have to be returned and the youths can wear them to job interviews.

“It really helps to set young people off on the correct path in life and in a successful manner,” he says.

At the same council meeting, regional and city councillor John Aker talked about employment numbers released monthly by Statistics Canada. The unemployment rate in the city of Oshawa dropped to 4.8 per cent in February, he said.

After years of struggles with the 15-24 age demographic, which at one time had an unemployment rate in the mid-20 per cent range, the number has now dropped to 7.7 per cent.

Kerr says Suits for Youth is initially aimed at high school students in Oshawa, but if it’s successful, the program will expand to other parts of Durham Region.

It will also not just be for single events, such as a prom, either, he says.

It will be a year-round initiative which allows Oshawa youths to pick up a suit even if they just need it for a job interview in the summer months.

“We don’t anticipate much during the year, but if the suits are there, why not (keep them available)?”, says Kerr.

Donations can be made at any police station in Oshawa, as well as guest services at the Oshawa Centre.

The program was organized by Kerr, Const. Sean McConnell, Const. Rudy Ferrera and Craig Walsh of the Oshawa Centre, the latter of whom donated the space which will be used for the event.

Kerr is optimistic, but also curious about the event, but it’s why they’re keeping Suits for Youth Oshawa-centric for the first year.

“We’re not really sure how the first year is going to go,” he says. The response they receive in the first year will determine their course of action in the future.

Members of the youth demographic (18-24) approve of the program.

Josh Bayne, 21, from the Kitchener-Waterloo area, wishes initiatives like this were around during his time in high school.

“It’s perfect. Not everybody can afford to go out and drop hundreds of dollars on suits or suit rentals. The more resources for children the better,” he says.