‘I have purpose’: ex-gang members find fulfillment through Build Up Saskatoon

Ex-gang members find fulfillment through Build Up Saskatoon
WATCH ABOVE: A new social enterprise called Build Up Saskatoon offers work to people with criminal records.

A social enterprise known as Build Up Saskatoon is offering work to people previously overlooked by employers – former gang members and ex-inmates.

For Mathias Ballantyne, who spent eight years in and out of jail, the business is providing income, self-worth and the chance to set an example for his two children.

READ MORE: Ex-gang members to contribute to Saskatchewan’s gang strategy

“I talk to my son every day about why I go to work. The reason why I wake up every morning,” Ballantyne said.

He left the correctional centre in 2010 and got involved with STR8 UP, which helps people in Saskatoon leave gang life.

“It was the best choice I ever made. I have values now. I have purpose. I have my loved ones at home who I’m proud to wake up to every morning,” Ballantyne said.

Story continues below advertisement

In April, Quint Development Corporation teamed up with STR8 UP to create Build Saskatoon, whose mandate is to hire people with multiple barriers to employment.

In one City Park backyard Friday, workers stained a deck, built a fence and gate and sanded and painted a fence. Leaf-raking and snow-clearing are also common contracted jobs.

Workers receive pay slightly above minimum wage with incremental raises based on hours worked.

Most employers won’t consider applicants with criminal records, but those are the ideal candidates for Build Up, according to business manager Ron Ratt.

“What makes them an asset is because they are exactly the kind of people we want. They are the people who have been looked over from society,” Ratt said.

READ MORE: Gang problems in Saskatoon linked to methamphetamine

As of Friday, Ratt had ten employees – two who recently began university and two others who returned to get their Grade 12 education.

“If I lose guys for school or for other jobs, then that’s perfect,” he said.

Build Up Saskatoon may soon expand to include Oskāyak High School, whose students are constantly seeking transitional employment, according to school social worker Stan Tu’Inukuafe.

Story continues below advertisement

By October, the first student could join the program.

“They see the value in work and it’s an opportunity for them to not only make money, but budget, and after they graduate, you know, save up for post-secondary,” Tu’Inukuafe said.

Build Saskatoon is seeking new employees and contracts. They can be reached through Quint Development Corporation.