In April 1983, a small three-person operation opened its doors in Kingston to respond to a growing crisis related to youth unemployment. This organization first known as Kingston Youth Employment Serve (KYES) was spearheaded by the John Howard Society of Kingston and other concerned community groups. Youth unemployment was hovering around 20% and Canada was in a recession. The difficulty finding a job was particularly problematic for those young people who had left school early and who had other life challenges. In 1983, I was given the opportunity to lead this new organization – a life-changing opportunity for me.
Our name Kingston Youth Employment Serve (KYES) was later changed to Kingston Employment and Youth Services (KEYS). Over the years we simply became known as KEYS. Sometimes we used KEYS Employment Services. Sometimes we used KEYS Job Centre. And now we often use KEYS Employment and Newcomer Services. As community needs evolved so did our programs and services. Employment and services to youth remained a focus, however we grew to provide service to all who needed our support becoming the largest provider of comprehensive employment services in the region, and the largest provider of services to Newcomers in the greater Kingston area.
Over the years KEYS became known for meeting community needs through developing new and innovative services. We have supported youth accessing international development projects, used theatre as a tool to teach work and life skills, supported refugees and other newcomers on their resettlement journey, provided skills training in many fields, been a leader in English language training, supported entrepreneurs start businesses, helped students find meaningful summer jobs, lead equity, diversity and inclusion projects, provided employers with the support needed to grow their workforce, and so much more.
We received our charitable status in April 1992.
Today KEYS is a multi-service organization with two Kingston offices and an office in Gananoque and Elgin. Our services to jobseekers, newcomers, and employers exist throughout the region and continue to expand and transform. For me it has been a privilege to serve through my work at KEYS. Over these 40 years I have had the privilege to work with many dedicated, knowledgeable co-workers. As an organization we have worked in-community and we take pride in our many partnerships. Service has been at the heart of what we do – compassionate responsive action. It will be at our core in the years to come.
Anyone interested in finding out more about KEYS and the work we do, please visit our website at keys.ca. There are many ways to volunteer at KEYS. Whether you enjoy helping the youth in our community or our newest community members, we invite you to find out ways you can make a difference. Please contact us at 613.546.5559. We also offer a variety of opportunities for local businesses and professionals to help other members of our community through volunteering. For those not able to give their time, we graciously accept financial donations to help us continue the work we do.
I would like to conclude by thanking all the amazing colleagues I have worked with over the years, thanking our countless community partners, and thanking the many volunteers and board members whose contributions add to all we do.
Michael Harris, Executive Director – KEYS