It was a unique opportunity for 12-year-old Osman to match wits and eye/hand coordination alongside a police officer playing NBA2K15.
It isn’t every day that the pre-teen gets to play against a police officer, in this case Constable Ammar Khan, but it will happen more frequently now in his Dixon neighbourhood, thanks to the dedication of community volunteers and Service members who pitched in to create the Blue Door game room. The room is open to kids to play board games, video games and computer games or even just watch TV alongside police officers and community volunteers.
The initiative started as an idea by the TPS Somali Liaison Unit to use a small room near the entrance of the building as a simple game room for the residents at 340 Dixon and adjoining buildings. But a chance meeting at the building between Sergeant Brian Beadman and Internet Access Solution vice-president Jon Connor, turned the idea of recreational room into a colourful, well-equipped, fully functional game room.
“I had a chance meeting in the hallway with Brian and he asked me to help set up an internet connection in a room downstairs,” says Connor, who works for Internet Access Solutions, a telecommunication provider. When Connor went down with Brian to look at the room, he decided to do more than just provide internet.
“I said I’ll give you then internet connection, but you give me the keys to this room and don’t come back for two weeks,” says Connor, of further outfitting the room.
From a drab white-and-gray room, the space was converted into a brightly coloured, cozy space, well-furnished, for local community children to hang out in.
“The idea of the “Big Blue Door” is that the blue represents the uniform, it represents safety and you need to bridge that gap between kids. So, it is not about the police showing up to arrest your mother and father, your brother or sister, it is about the police are here to help you in a positive way,” explains Connor.
He called family and friends who donated laptops, TVs, board games. Alongside Connor, were police officers, Youth In Policing Initiative (YIPI) students and Auxiliary officers, putting in hours painting the space and assembling IKEA furniture with dedicated community volunteers helping get the space ready. In less than two weeks, the Big Blue Door was open to the public.
“We see these kids here, and we see them at other programs too. We see them at school because of the hot-lunch program at Dixon Grove. We really are getting to know the community and it is great for relationship-building in this community,” says Beadman.
Interacting in a fun and safe space is something police feel will make the Dixon community feel at ease with them.
“In the past, there has been some tension with the community and the police and I think we are at the point, now, where we have overcome that tension and, if you speak to the community members here, they feel that they can approach police officers, and come to the various things that we set up here for them,” says Superintendent Ron Taverner.
It’s not the first venture for police in the community. Officers have helped set up a library, community room and also offer yoga classes for women and girls, as well as participate in the hot-lunch program at Dixon Grove Junior Middle School.
For Amira Ali, a mother of a young child, having the police in the area doing positive things has made her feel safer.
“This is a wonderful project they have put together for the youth to get involved, rather than getting into other things,” she says. Most of all, she thinks the space is not just for children but a way for the rest of the community to get together, too. Her sense of security has increased as well.
“With the police doing this, it is more security for the community… it just feels safer with everything happening around here.”
The children were eager to use all the gadgets on offer. Saluma Mohiadin, 11, excitedly using a laptop to play a computer game, said she is warming up to the idea of hanging out with police officers in the game room.
“I kind of would be shy but it would still be fun.”