It’s been one of the greatest and most unforgettable experiences of his young life.
That was how Joshua Ateinza summed up his time in the just-concluded Youth in Policing Initiative (YIPI) after-school program.
The Grade 11 student was among 63 graduates who were presented with certificates at the closing ceremony on May 2 at police headquarters.
“I came into this program with one goal and that was to learn as much as I could about the police service and how it functions in my community,” said the R.H. King Academy student. “I have always had the greatest respect for our police officers. I accomplished my goal and my respect for the police has increased further. Also, I met a lot of amazing young people and I will cherish those friendships forever.”
C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute Grade 11 student Shelcia Hookumchand said the program has positively impacted her life.
“I was truly humbled when I got that call saying I was accepted into the program,” she said. “This was my first paid job and the knowledge and experience I gained working with the police in the community will truly help me in future endeavours.”
For Yasmine Gray, the job experience was rewarding in many ways.
Not only did the Grade 11 student earn a paycheque, but she developed useful work experience and some lasting relationships with the officers she worked with at 43 Division.
“That was the best part of the program,” said the Sir Wilfrid Laurier Collegiate Institute student, who sang the national anthem at the graduation. “They were friendly and accommodating and they cared about my opinion and were willing to use of some of it to engage other young people in the community. I felt valued.”
Prior to joining the YIPI program last January, Gray was a volunteer youth leader with Victim Services Toronto (VST) Tear Ending Abusive Relationships (T.E.A.R.) program. VST has been operating T.E.A.R. for the past seven years.
Geared towards young people enrolled in middle and high schools in the Greater Toronto Area, T.E.A.R. combines media clips and music videos to illustrate the devastating effects and unique dynamics of domestic violence.
Gray has applied to become a volunteer for VST which provides crisis response, trauma and support services to victims of crime and sudden tragic circumstances 24 hours daily. She plans to become a social worker.
Scarlett Heights Entrepreneurial Academy student Safia Hirsi and 18-year-old Martingrove Collegiate Institute graduate Antonio Cibichino also spoke glowingly of the YIPI program.
Hirsi volunteered at the Cops for Cancer fundraiser at the Yorkdale Shopping Centre, prepared winter survival kits for the homeless and participated in a community boxing program.
“The YIPI program allowed me to go outside my comfort zone and learn how to box,” said Hirsi, who plans to pursue business management studies at either Ryerson or York University.
Cibichino is enrolled in Ryerson University’s criminal justice program.
“I want to study law, so I figured this YIPI program would provide me with invaluable experience,” he said. “I was right.”
In response to the deadly Danzig Street shooting that claimed two young lives two years ago, the provincial government rolled out a youth action plan with $20 million in new annual funding to improve the lives of young people in the city and the rest of the province.
As part of the plan, the summer jobs for youth program in the city’s challenged neighbourhoods was expanded to provide new after-school jobs during the school year.
In a taped message, Ontario Minister of Children & Youth Services Teresa Piruzza congratulated the graduates for completing the program.
“Over the past few months, you have taken on important roles that have helped develop your communities and problem-solving skills, you have learned about teamwork and responsibility and you have built up your confidence along with your resumes,” she said. “You have seen first-hand the importance of role models like the men and women of the Toronto Police Service. Now, all of you will be role models to other young men and women in your communities. I hope you realize you are capable of doing great things.”
Assigned to the 17 police Divisions and other units, the students participated in several community projects, including “Project Winter Survival” in which they assembled survival kits for the homeless and an innovative program that teaches youths how to make nutritious meals while introducing them to the possibility of a career in the hospital sector.
They also shovelled snow for seniors and helped police distribute flyers at community events and search for missing people.
“You stepped up large and you deserve every accolade given to you here tonight,” Deputy Chief Peter Sloly told the graduates. “You deserve to wear the TPS crest and you have earned our respect.”
The Toronto Police Services Board has supported the YIPI program from its inception, providing financial support through its special fund.
Board member Dr. Dhun Noria, the chief of laboratory medicine at The Scarborough Hospital, represented Chair Alok Mukherjee at the graduation ceremony.
“I am confident that each and every one of you will be forever changed by this experience and it will influence you in years to come,” she said.
A total of 413 students, including Abukar Hagi, applied for this year’s after-school winter program.
“The most valuable skills I have acquired are the ability to take initiative, make my own decisions and become more responsible,” said Hagi, who was assigned to 14 Division.
Staff Superintendent Tom Russell, of Area Field Command, was the master of ceremony.
“The goal of the YIPI program is to give young people an opportunity to develop job skills while enhancing police and community relations,” he said. “…These fine young and women have worked alongside our members in safe and positive placement opportunities.”
He thanked Melva Radway of the Divisional Policing Support Unit, Nalini Sukhu of the Employment Unit and Ricardo Araujo and Larissa Leach of Area Field Command for their commitment to the program.
“I also want to thank all of our members who have supervised and worked with these students during their 17 weeks with our Service,” Russell added.
The YIPI program was conceived in 2006 with the assistance of former provincial minister Mary Anne Chambers who attended the graduation ceremony.