Bullied in her first month in high school, and on the verge of succumbing to peer pressure, Bibi Hakim joined the Trust 15 community youth initiative started by Toronto District School Board educational assistant Marcia Brown.
Young people in North Etobicoke are engaged in the Ladies on the Move, Men of Distinction and Girls on the Rise programs that cater to under-served and challenged teenagers.
Connected with mentors, professionals and community leaders, the young people are provided key networks which help them navigate challenges in and out of the classroom.
Staff Sergeant Ron Boyce of Divisional Policing Support Unit is one of Hakim’s mentors.
“The first time I saw Bibi, about three years ago, she was very nervous while making an oral presentation,” he recalled. “I told her to calm down and I could see that she was very enthusiastic. I felt compelled to help her because I could tell she has leadership qualities and is very responsible.”
In addition to providing guidance, support and assurance, Boyce encouraged Hakim to apply for the Youth in Policing Initiative (YIPI) program, established in 2006 with the assistance of former provincial government minister Mary Anne Chambers.
Seven years ago, the program was permanently incorporated into the Ontario government’s list of youth programs and, a year later, the Ministry of Children & Youth Services expanded its funding to the program to accommodate a 50 per cent increase in hires.
This summer, Hakim was among the 155 recruits representing the 10th batch of high school and university students, between 15 and 18, to participate in the program that caters to young people facing significant challenges, including finding summer employment.
“Had it not being for Staff Sergeant Boyce and Marcia Brown of Trust 15, I don’t know where I might be right now,” said the North Albion Collegiate Institute Grade 12 student who is this year’s YIPI valedictorian. “They believed in me and helped raise my self-confidence, which I really struggled with before I got into the Ladies on the Move program. Now, I feel comfortable speaking in front of an audience and I have set myself life goals instead of just living from day to day. I have a purpose.”
Hakim relished the YIPI experience.
She was assigned to Pro Action Cops & Kids, the largest private funder of TPS programs for young people. Toronto businessman John Bitove conceived the program idea in 1991, after seeing the positive effect that police foot patrols had on enhancing police/community relations.
“Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect,” said Hakim, who will assume the presidency of her school’s student council when the new term starts in two weeks. “Now, I can say I am a new person because of the YIPI program. I met people who inspired and encouraged me to persevere in spite of the challenges I will face. I learnt a very important lesson along the way and that is not to wait for the perfect moment. That doesn’t happen unless you contribute to that perfection you are seeking.”
Hakim said the program helped to change her perception of police.
“I was scared of them,” she admitted. “I used to refer to them as the tall, giant scary people. Now, I see them as human beings and my friends. I am not afraid to approach an officer and say ‘hello, how are you doing’?”
The 17-year-old’s goals are lofty.
After pursuing business management studies at Wilfrid Laurier University, she plans to become an entrepreneur, fashion designer and Prime Minister of Canada.
Earning $11 an hour, Hakim and the rest of the YIPI students were exposed to the Service’s 17 Divisions and 48 support units. Some students were also assigned to the Ministry of Community Safety & Correctional Services, the Toronto Intermittent Centre & South Detention Centre, the Jamaican Consulate and the Ontario Black History Society.
Of the record 1,376 applicants this year, a total of 525 were interviewed and 155 selected. Just two failed to complete the eight-week program.
At the August 21 graduation ceremony, Deputy Chief Peter Sloly told the students they are graduating because of their individual brilliance.
“You are not only brilliant for what you have done,” he added. “You are brave because I can imagine that when you were thinking about applying, you had people asking why you want to go and work for the police who are not your friends. Some of you might have asked yourself if you should take off the uniform before you enter your neighbourhoods. You had to step up for the entire eight weeks and I appreciate you guys taking the risk.”
Sloly encouraged the graduates to wear the crest with pride and value the new line on their resume.
“It will open doors for you,” he told them. “You have done an amazing job. You have to give back, though. Come back as alumni and coach, mentor and volunteer in your own communities. Be an ambassador for Toronto Police. We need you to be that voice for us, especially in these difficult days that we are facing right now.”
He also thanked frontline officers from the 17 Divisions for coaching, mentoring and learning from the YIPIs and their families for encouraging the youths to apply to the program.
Member of Parliament Granville Anderson, the parliamentary assistant to Minister of Children & Youth Services Tracy MacCharles, thanked the students for staying the course and completing a fulfilling summer experience.
“This experience had broadened your horizons and increased your capacity to adapt in new situations and job responsibilities,” he pointed out. “Experience is usually the first thing prospective employers ask about when you are looking for a job. You can answer that question with a ‘yes’.”
New Police Services Board chair Andy Pringle said the program is a “win-win” for Canada’s largest municipal police service.
“Not only do young people gain experience to the world of policing, but our Service members, too, have the opportunity to learn from you the youth, to hear from future leaders of our community and to understand their ideas, insights and hopes,” he noted.
“During my time here at police headquarters, I have often seen the YIPI students in the halls and elevators. I am always struck by the sense of pride they exhibit. It’s clear just by looking at them that they value this experience and they know what an extraordinary opportunity it is. Frankly, programs like this make our organization the outstanding place it is…I am confident that each of you will be forever changed by this experience and that it will influence you in the years to come.”
Chambers has remained close to the program despite quitting politics eight years ago.
“I am really proud of this initiative and appreciative of the work Toronto Police is doing with it,” said Chambers who was at the graduation. “I will always be here to give my support and encourage the focus to be on these wonderful young people in our community.”
Birchmount Park Collegiate Institute Grade 11 student Zubair Abdelur said this was one of his best summers.
“It was a really great experience and good development platform for me to build a career,” said the 16-year-old, who aspires to be a physiotherapist.
Special recognition awards were presented to Hakim, Ganka Nagarajan, who was assigned to Corporate Communications, and Gajanan Raveendran and Christin Tubigan of Pan Am Portland.
Grade 10 student Khadeen Robinson, who aspires to be a police officer or paramedic, sang the national anthem while Superintendent Peter Yuen was the Master of Ceremony
A total of 1,674 students have graduated from the program since its inception in 2006.