Personal challenges can sometimes bring out the passion for serving and helping others.
When Detective Constable Rob Tajti found out, nearly a decade ago, that his teenaged daughter, living with her mother at the time, had run away from home and was doing drugs, he was hurt and humiliated.
“As police officers, we tend to put ourselves on a pedestal and think that we and our families are flawless,” he said. “I learned that my kids are not better than anybody’s children and that I needed to be in the community, not just as a police officer, but as a human being helping young people to do the right thing and, in the process, assisting them to become leaders.”
Tajti managed to convince his daughter to come and live with him.
“I sat her down and assured her I was going to give her all the support she needs,” he said. “She listened and has turned her life around to the point that’s she married with three beautiful children and I am a proud grandfather. Failure is not just about falling flat on your face. It’s about refusing to rise.”
Tajti’s daughter’s substance abuse was the catalyst for the Music! Not Mischief program that the 11 Division crime analyst co-founded with Mike Carparelli of Carparelli Guitars. It provides secondary school students with lunchtime guitar lessons and an opportunity to hear from police officers that crime and drugs will only lead them astray.
For the last eight years, students in the Greater Toronto Area – coached by Toronto Police officers -- have been exhibiting their talent on the guitar in a two-hour showcase event at the Virgin Mobile Mod Club.
This year’s event took place on April 27.
The participants were Sean Jansen, Abinav Chanda, Ramuel Rodrigues, Cenk Zen, Aaron Gamez, Joel Carnejo, Nathaniel Brown, Dixon Chan and Tony Newton.
Tajti offered the young guitarists an inspirational talk before the show started.
“When life throws a curve ball at you, you don’t have many choices,” he told them. “You can give up and throw in the towel or fight to survive. We are here for you. Take the lessons of your achievements and do something great. This moment – right here, right now – is about you and I want you to know that Mike and I are proud of you.”
Chan, a 14-year-old Blessed Mother Teresa Catholic Secondary School student, wowed the audience and judges –Carparelli, Superintendent Bryce Evans, recording artist Marshall Dane, Provincial Court Judge Carmine Iacona and second-year winner Sergio Moyano – to capture this year’s crown.
The contestants were judged on performance and musical accuracy.
“This is huge for me,” said Chan. “I have sung in front of crowds before, but this was my best experience on stage because I let loose and really had fun.”
He started playing the guitar four years ago.
“My plan is to make music and travel around the world playing it,” he said.
Each contestant was presented with a guitar.
CTV News police and crime reporter Tamara Cherry was the MC while Tracenine and Little Sunday provided musical support for the student guitarists.
Starting with Parkdale Collegiate Institute in 2008, the program expanded to include schools in Niagara, Durham, Hamilton, Cobourg and Kawartha Lakes.
ProAction Cops and Kids was a sponsor for the first six years, while the Tyler McGill Memorial Benefit program has financially supported the program from the start. A music lover and avid guitar player, McGill was fatally stabbed at a McDonald’s drive-thru in Scarborough in July 2007.
Tajti said they continue to look for more funding to keep the program on the right note.
“Our stock of guitars is dwindling and we are struggling to replace them,” said Tajti, who joined the Service 27 years ago. “Most of the funding we get goes towards purchasing guitars for the students.”
The night started on a high note, with Tajti successfully proposing on stage to advertising executive Kelly Bart, who was in the audience with her father, a retired Canadian Armed Forces Major.