When Andrew Won joined the Youth in Policing Initiative (YIPI) summer program, five years ago, he was wrestling with a career choice.
Just days into the eight-week program, he knew what his vocation was going to be.
A member of the Ottawa Police Service since August 2015, Won joined YIPI alumni at a gala event on December 3 to celebrate the program’s 10th anniversary.
“This program has impacted me in many ways,” said Won, who was assigned to 32 Division as a YIPI student. “It taught me punctuality, hard work and how to perform in a team environment. Being a police officer is a true great calling. It’s because of the YIPI program that I am who I am today.”
A graduate of Brebeuf College School, Won was an Auxiliary member for three years before applying to Toronto and Ottawa Police Services.
He and Thushanth Selvakumar are the two YIPI graduates to become uniformed police officers. A member of the inaugural 2006 YIPI class, Selvakumar is assigned to Toronto Police’s Traffic Services.
The YIPI program emerged as a summer employment opportunity for young people, from some of the city’s designated priority neighbourhoods, to gain valuable work experience and feel positive and confident about their positive experiences with the Service, which they take back to their communities.
The Toronto Police Services Board has been supportive of the program from its inception.
TPSB Chair Andy Pringle said the program is exceptional, renowned, dynamic and inspiring.
“We believe the program has countless benefits for our young people, the TPSB and the broader City of Toronto as a whole,” he said. “By recognizing and supporting the strengths of our young people, this program helps to build future leaders from neighbourhoods across the city. It also gives us a unique opportunity to interact and learn from young people. I have no doubt it has made a tremendous and life-changing impact in the lives of many. It’s programs such as this one that have made Toronto the leader in policing worldwide.”
In 2008, 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.
A YIPI after-school winter program was established three years ago.
A total of 1,950 students have graduated from both programs.
Chief Mark Saunders thanked the graduates for believing in the program and staying the course.
“A lot of people in your neighbourhoods may have been telling you not to do it,” he said. “But you took that leap of faith and trusted us. We thank you. This would not have been successful without you…I look around now and see future leaders.”
Saunders said the program is a ‘win-win’ for the Service.
“You give us another lens to see how policing could be done properly,” he said. “We have learned so much from you. It’s amazing when you sprinkle a little bit of hope and guidance and the great outcomes that you can have. We need so many programs like this. I know we are going to be moving towards that as we work to modernize policing through our Transformational Task Force. One of the things that we need to do is strengthen those partnerships and look at the programs that create great outcomes just like this. There is no better program, I think, that develops relationships other than the YIPI program.”
The Chief also thanked former program co-ordinator Danielle Dowdy, her successor Melva Radway, and their staff for maintaining the program.
Michael Coteau, Ontario’s Minister of Children & Youth Services, said the 10th anniversary celebration is a milestone achievement.
“Our government is proud to support this community program as part of our commitment to help young people reach their full potential,” he said. “We recognize that our communities work best when all members have the opportunity to succeed.”
Recently appointed Assistant Deputy Minister David Mitchell noted that the YIPI program provides an opportunity for youths to gain valuable work experience.
“This helps them to make better lives for themselves and become useful societal contributors,” he said.
Brooke Solnik, who graduated in 2009, is on the verge of becoming a Toronto District School Board teacher.
“The YIPI program taught me useful interpersonal skills that I have been able to use,” said the York University graduate who was assigned to the Sex Crimes as a YIPI student. “I also learned that the police are not intimidating as I was led to believe and they are supportive of young people in our communities.”
The YIPI program provided Greg Staggolis with his first summer job.
“I learned so much,” said the 2006 graduate, who spent 10 months in Thailand as a front office management trainee and operations service manager in the hotel industry and 25 months in Seoul, South Korea, as an English teacher before returning home in April to become the program head with Moorelands Community Services. “I learned time-management and how to work effectively and efficiently in a team environment.”
Gajanan (Musa) Raveendram and Chinelle McDonald, who graduated in 2012 and 2013 respectively, were the Masters of Ceremony, while 2014 graduate Tamara Twumwah-Ofori sang the national anthem and Nichelle Bernard – a 2014 graduate who is pursuing child & youth worker studies at George Brown College -- performed two musical renditions.