High school student Justine Parungao aspires to follow in the footsteps of her father who was a police officer in the Philippines.
“He gave up a career back home to come to Canada so that meant my younger sister could have a better life,” said the Grade 12 Madonna Catholic Secondary School student, who graduated from this year’s Toronto Police Service’s (TPS) Youth in Policing Initiative (YIPI) Winter program. “I want to pick up from where he left off and become part of the police profession in Canada.”
The teenager was among 60 graduates between the ages of 15 and 18 who were celebrated on April 26 at the Toronto Police College.
Parungao said the 17-week program was a once-in-a lifetime experience.
“I learned how to connect with other people in a working environment and act professionally in all that I do,” she said. “I also learned how to step out of my comfort zone.”
The most memorable experience she pointed out was when she and the three other YIPIs, assigned to 13 Division, volunteered at Holy Rosary Church as part of the Out of the Cold Meal program.
“While distributing meals, a homeless man, who was obviously a supporter of the police, came over to talk to us,” Parungao recalled. “He told us to keep pursuing our dreams and continue to work hard. He also reminded us that life is filled with obstacles, but it is up to us to handle those situations the best way we could. For him to be giving us such words of wisdom meant a lot to me and I will never forget that moment.”
Coming from a military family, Martin Ivanovs was grateful to be introduced to the program.
“I had no idea something like this existed until last year when an officer came to our school and handed out the flyers,” said the Western Technical-Commercial School Grade 11 student. “It was my first job and I enjoyed it a great deal.”
After graduating from high school, Ivanovs plans to pursue criminology studies before applying to a police service.
“That’s what I want to do and Toronto Police will definitely be my first choice,” he said. “I have made some good connections and I intend to utilize them once I am ready to serve and protect.”
In response to the deadly 2012 Danzig Street shooting that claimed two young lives, the provincial government rolled out a youth action plan with $20 million in new annual funding to improve the lives of young people in the city and the rest of the province.
As part of the plan, the youth summer jobs program in the city’s challenged neighbourhoods was expanded to provide new after-school jobs during the school year.
Nearly 300 students have graduated from the YIPI Winter program since its inception in 2013.
Acting Deputy Chief Rick Stubbings told the students that they played a key role with TPS over the last four months.
“You really contributed to public safety in that time,” he said. “You also learned a lot about police work, probably a lot more than you thought you would, and you probably changed your attitude about police officers and what they and the civilian staff do. You also impacted us immensely.”
There were almost 400 applicants for the 60 positions.
“You were the cream of the crop,” Stubbings told the graduates. “Now that you are leaving us, I don’t want you to forget that you were part of the TPS family and team.”
Mounted United Constable Ilana Gavaller was full of praise for Mathew Araujo-Pavao and Akilan Vaithilingam who were assigned to her unit.
“Of all the students, I think they had the hardest job,” she said. “The shovelled the stalls and helped feed and groom the horses. Anything that we needed them to do, they did it willingly and with smiles on their faces. They were very reliable, they always showed up for work on time and they didn’t need to be micro-managed.”
Vaithilingam, who attends Northview Heights Secondary School, said he was hesitant when he first learned he was assigned to the unit.
“It was a long commute from my home, but when I got there the first day, I fell in love with the environment,” he said. “It was my first time interacting with horses, which I love, and that enhanced the experience.”
The aspiring marketing manager said his favourite horse was Bobby.
“He was very friendly and whenever I passed by his stall, he would pop his head out,” said Vaithilingam.
As someone who relishes horses and the outdoors, Araujo-Pavao was in his comfort zone at the unit.
“I rode horses before and I love to be around them,” said the Western Technical-Commercial School Grade 11 student. “I was a really overjoyed when I found out I was going to the Mounted Unit.”
For Cedarbrae Collegiate Institute Grade 12 student Monil Sharma, the YIPI program was his first job.
“I could not have asked for a better introduction into the workforce,” he said. “One of the things I most enjoyed was going out with 42 Division officers to a community event and seeing how they interacted with the people.”
Inspector Sonia Thomas and Constable Wai Lau of 53 Division were very impressed with the students assigned to their Division.
“Every year, they just seem to be getting better,” said Lau. “They are intelligent and willing to try anything. Of course, they make mistakes, but they learn from them.”
The graduates completed automated external defibrillator, first-aid training, money management and budget courses. Also, 56 of them received email etiquette and professionalism certificates from the Centre for Skills Development.
During the graduation ceremony, a few of the graduates showed off their artistic skills.
Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts Grade 12 student Celine Hong, who aspires to be a filmmaker or criminal investigator, is a martial arts exponent while Rosedale Heights School of the Arts Grade 10 student Ananya Kalwakollu loves to dance.
The YIPI program was implemented 11 years ago when Mary Anne Chambers was Minister of Children & Youth Services and she has made it her duty to attend every launch and graduation.
Overall, almost 1,860 students have graduated from the summer and winter programs.