Thursday, October 11, 2012

Child and Youth Care grad gives car thieves an alternative to stealing

By Tamara Letkeman, doug Editor

The opportunity to restore a 1935 hot rod would be a dream for many car lovers. For Alex Vasiljević, a graduate of the Child and Youth Care program at Douglas College and Community Youth Worker at Ray-Cam Cooperative, it was a chance to connect with teens who loved cars a little too much.

In 2005, Alex approached the Vancouver Police Department about creating a project that would get teenage car thieves to stop stealing. The result was NASKARZ – Never Again Steal Cars – a program through Ray-Cam that connects youth from the Downtown Eastside with police officers, auto instructors from Vancouver Community College, and volunteers, to rebuild and restore cars.

“We thought that if kids enjoyed joyriding in cars, they might enjoy working on them, too,” Alex says.

Turns out he was right.

Over the last five years, more than 200 youth have participated in the program. They spent countless hours working on the latest NASKARZ project, a 1935 Ford, originally a rusted shell collected from a farmer’s field in Saskatchewan. The restored hot rod will be finished next year and will be used as a police parade car and will become a permanent display at Ray-Cam – a lasting testament to the success of the program.

As a youth worker, Alex says NASKARZ is gratifying in that it allows him to see tangible improvements in the kids he’s trying to help.

“Sometimes it’s hard to see progress,” he says. “But walking into an auto shop and seeing the sparks fly as the kids weld and cut is instant bliss for me. I can actually see human potential being realized.”

Learn more about the Child and Youth Care program on the Douglas College website or come to an info session Oct. 16, Nov. 13 or 15, or Dec. 4.