Honours For Helping Vulnerable

By Ron Fanfair, Toronto Police Service Published: 4:39 p.m. September 17, 2015

Vacations are a time to recharge the batteries and return to work refreshed and reinvigorated.

A woman and man in TPS uniform
Court officer Rhea Alvarez and her husband Jorge, a constable at 43 Division, intervened in a medical incident on a plane during their vacation

Constable Jorge Alvarez and his wife Rhea, who became a court officer last November, had done exactly that in the Dominican Republic and were resting on their late night flight back to Toronto on April 13, 2014, when they were aroused by a loud noise in the cabin.

A few minutes later, the cabin lights were turned on and a flight attendant came on the intercom asking if any medical personnel was on board.

“There was no response initially and the attendant then asked if there was anyone with First Aid training,” recalled Rhea Alvarez. “Realizing that someone needed urgent assistance, I and my husband stepped forward because we have First Aid certifications.”

Identifying themselves as Toronto Police Service members (TPS), the couple started to administer First Aid and Jorge Alvarez was designated by the pilot to be the air marshall.

“The woman was foaming from the mouth and she was convulsing and unresponsive,” said Alvarez. “She was definitely not in good shape.”

When the captain decided to return to Punta Cana, some passengers became angry.

“They didn’t realize the gravity of the situation and they figured they would miss work the next day,” said Alvarez. “In addition to trying to keep this woman who was travelling alone alive, we had to explain to passengers what was happening.”

After making an emergency landing, the woman was rushed to a medical facility.

“It helped that my husband speaks Spanish because he was able to explain to the medical crew on the ground what had happened,” said Alvarez. “They didn’t speak English too well, so it was good that he could converse with them in their official language and get the lady the assistance she needed.”

Now assigned to 43 Division, Jorge Alvarez – who is also fluent in French – was presented with a Commendation Award, and his wife was the recipient of a Community Member Award at the Service’s awards ceremony on September 16 to recognize admirable contributions made by TPS and community members.

This was not the first time the husband and wife were called upon to use their First Aid training.

In early 2014, the 16-year officer and other colleagues were attending a Service member’s wedding celebration when a man suffered a heart attack at a function in an adjoining room in the banquet hall.

“We helped to revive that person,” recounted Jorge Alvarez.

May Mak, who is in her 33rd year with the Service, was recognized with the Chief of Police Excellence Award for her limitless support of charities.

Since 2012, she has coordinated a co-operative art exhibit and sale – Evidence of Art – that is a platform for TPS members to showcase their artistic talent as well as donate profit to the charity of their choice. 

Proceeds from the sale of handcrafted fashion jewelry she designs and sells through CreativEye, which she founded in November 2007, is donated to the Toronto Police United Way campaign, Victim Services Toronto, Habitat for Humanity Toronto, Moraine Hills Public School and the Full Tummy Orphanage Food Project, a non-profit organization she launched in 2009 after a visit with her sister to Cambodia.

The senior governance analyst in Professional Standards Support has raised over $22,000 to build small farms and provide safe drinking water to orphanages.

A close up of a woman
For her abundance of charitable acts, Governance Analyst May Mak, was given a Chief of Police Excellence Award

Mak, who loves to travel and has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, was also the finance coordinator and webmaster for Habitat for Humanity Toronto Police Women Build that recruited 100 volunteers who raised $214,000 in nearly 18 months and helped build two townhouses in Scarborough. In 2011, she was a consultant for the 9-1-1 Habitat for Humanity Build that raised $200,000 to build two wheelchair accessible homes.

For 17 years up until 2007, she spent thousands of hours as a member and manager of the Toronto Police Dragon Boat Crew that raised money for various charities.

A co-founder of the Aboriginal Professional Association of Canada, Mak, who arrived in Canada from Hong Kong at age six and graduated from Riverdale Collegiate Institute and the University of Toronto where she majored in zoology, was a 2011 DiverseCity Fellow.

“Every time I get an award, it tells me that some member of the Service appreciates my work,” she said. “I don’t do charity work for awards even though I acknowledge the recognition. What I relish most is the support I get from Service members for the various charities I am involved in.”

I don’t do charity work for awards even though I acknowledge the recognition. What I relish most is the support I get from Service members for the various charities I am involved in

Three years ago, then 12 Division Inspector Scott Gilbert approved a community project conceived by Sean Cosgrove who was a Constable at the time.

Project Resiliency was a unique police-developed, managed and driven program tailored to challenge youths in the Division. It was implemented through the collaboration of 12 Division Neighbourhood and Community Response officers and members of the Muskoka Woods leadership studio. The program focused on youth mentorship and leadership training.

“It was a sound proposal and we all got on board,” said Superintendent Gilbert, who is now the 53 Division unit commander. “It was a great opportunity for officers working in that neighbourhood to make some good connections with youths.”

Gilbert, Cosgrove and other team members associated with Project Resiliency, a five-month pilot program, were presented with Partnership Awards.

“I was looking at a leadership-based program to get youths engaged in their community,” said Cosgrove, who is a Sergeant at 33 Division. “This program fit the bill and was very effective.”

A group of men and women in TPS uniform on a staircase along with others in business suits
Members of Project Resiliency were awarded for helping students develop leadership skills

Chief Mark Saunders thanked the awardees for going above and beyond the call of duty to help others in need.

“Tonight reminds us of what we ask our men and women to do,” he said. “Each and every day, we ask our officers to dedicate their service to keep this city safe so that anyone that lives in Toronto or visits Toronto can do so free of fear. But tonight is an extraordinary night. We are going to be listening to stories of acts that go above and beyond the call of duty and you are going to be hearing about heroism, selflessness, guardianship and so much more. These stories are real because our men and women and civilian staff complied with their training, did the right thing at the right time and we have successful outcomes.”

Mayor John Tory, who sits on the Toronto Police Services Board, attended the awards ceremony.

“This kind of ceremony honours the best of the best,” he said. “I believe in my heart from all of the exposure over all of my years as a young boy up to an including when I am the Mayor of this city that we have the best police service in North America, if not in the world… You are role models who exemplify the best of the best and the best of how it should be.”

TPSB Vice-Chair and City Councillor Chin Lee told the Service recipients they are living examples of the organization’s core values.

They are honesty, integrity, fairness, reliability, respect, teamwork and a positive attitude.

“You have earned the trust of the people we serve, you have earned the respect of your peers and you have earned your moment of spotlight tonight,” said Lee.

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