Entering the Youth in Policing Initiative (YIPI) eight weeks ago, Hafsa Anwar had mixed feelings about police.
Raised in one of the city’s priority neighbourhoods, she knows many people who don't see the police in a positive light.
The Ursula Franklin Academy Grade 12 student had many questions about why police do what they do so she decided to put aside those reservations and apply for a spot in the program where youth work alongside police officers and civilian members.
“I am so glad I did,” she said at the graduation ceremony on August 25.
Anwar was one of three valedictorians.
“Being part of the program was a huge step for me,” she said. "I did this not only to get some experience and, of course, make some money, but to overcome my fears and satisfy my curiosity. Many of the questions I had relating to the police have been answered.”
The teenager said she was truly blessed to be part of the YIPI that caters to high school and university students, between 15 and 18, who come from City of Toronto-designated Neighbourhood Improvement Areas and often struggle to find summer employment.
“You will always come across people in work environments who will not always be indulgent in the concept of fairness and who misuse their authority,” she said. “I have learned that this doesn’t categorize a group as a whole. The program has taught me that finding negatives in everything leads to the failure of seeing the positives.”
The other valedictorians were Aymun Kayka and Jamilah Reeves.
A graduate of John Polanyi Collegiate Institute, Reeves admitted she came into the program with biases.
“That, however, all of that changed in the last eight weeks,” she said. “The program freed me from those biases, opened my eyes and helped put me on a path to a bright future.”
Reeves, who enters York University in the next two weeks, said the program was more than a summer job.
Each student was paid $11.90 an hour but performed a wide variety of work from administrative to mentoring youth to removing graffiti.
“It was more a lifetime experience,” she said. “It served as a stepping stone for me as I move forward. It was also a fun experience. I learned how to effectively present myself in the company of others and also how to treat people with respect.”
Reeves promises she will be back with Toronto Police in a civilian capacity.
Assigned to the Divisional Policing Support Unit, Kayka was placed at the St. Felix Centre that serves a wide range of clients, clients including children, youth, adults, seniors, recent immigrants and individuals and families who are experiencing poverty, trauma, violence, abuse, malnutrition, mental illness, addiction and homelessness.
She helped to prepare and serve food daily for about 100 people.
“I was helping people who haven’t had the best experiences in life, but they didn’t allow that to define them,” Kayka said. “It was a humbling experience and it reminded me that no matter where we come from, we should not let our past define who we are.”
Just four of the 153 students failed to complete the program.
Chief Mark Saunders reminded the graduates they have now become part of an esteemed alumni group.
“Hold that with a badge of honour,” he said. “I hope you now have a better understanding of the importance of giving back and learning from one another… Be great, be bold, be guided by your moral compass and do all the right things for the right reasons.”
The Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) makes a financial contribution to the program annually.
TPSB Chair Andy Pringle expressed confidence that the summer experience will have a lasting impact on the graduates.
“Whether you come back to work for Toronto Police or go elsewhere, I think it is important you get this experience and opportunity to do public service,” he said. “It is what makes this a great city and you an integral part of it.”
David Mitchell, Assistant Deputy Minister with the Ministry of Children & Youth Services, told the graduates that working as a YIPI is an enviable summer job in the city.
“Each of you will have a unique takeaway from this experience that I am sure you will treasure and look back on,” he said. “This opportunity has provided you with a diverse work experience and one that will be useful when you are looking for a job and ways to contribute to your community.”
During the program, 50 students took part in the Service’s Physical Readiness Evaluation for Police (PREP) test and the graduates assigned to 23 Division created a Bullying presentation that will be used by School Resource Officers in the coming school year.