Asked to write a blog about her interactions with young people at Rookie League, Youth in Policing Initiative (YIPI) participant Klackciya Krishnakumar was a bit apprehensive.
“I was wearing a T-shirt with the Toronto Police logo and I thought the kids would be hesitant when I approached them with questions,” the Grade 12 student said.
Krishnakumar was wrong.
“They were so sweet and they wanted to talk,” she said. “It was like if they were saying, ‘She’s a normal person, she’s asking me questions and I will answer. That was definitely one of my highlights during the YIPI summer program.”
Rookie League is a summer baseball camp programs for kids between the ages of six and 12. Jays Care Foundation and Toronto Community Housing run the program to help build strong communities.
The Wilfrid Laurier Collegiate Institute student was among 151 graduates to receive certificates at a ceremony at the Toronto Police College on August 23 to mark the end of this year’s YIPI summer program launched in 2006.
Krishnakumar, who was assigned to Corporate Communications, was surprised by how much she took away from the program.
“Coming into it, I didn’t really have any interactions with police officers,” the aspiring lawyer said. “All I knew was that they are there to help and protect people. But I saw officers who did more than that in a different light in my time with the Service. It really occurred to me that they are human beings just like everyone else.”
Established with the assistance of former provincial government Minister Mary Anne Chambers, who attended the graduation, the unique program 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.
Earning $14 an hour, the YIPI students are exposed to the Service’s 17 Divisions and support units, working alongside both uniform and civilian members.
Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders told the graduates that the certificates they received represent a token of what they meant to the Service.
“I hope that those certificates represent the next steps in your life and you will continue to make positive contributions while serving others,” he said. “I also hope that what you got out of this program is what we got out of it. I have watched relationships develop between men and women of the Service and you and I can’t begin to tell you how proud I am of the impact you have made on us.
“We have taught you that the greatest gift of all is to serve others. Service is the denomination of what defines us as human beings and the footprint that you are going to leave in the communities you are exposed to for the rest of your lives. This program is just one small fragment of the giant footprint that you are going to leave in your communities and our society.”
The Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) has supported the program from the inception.
Chair Andy Pringle pointed out that it is a very special initiative.
“In this dynamic and inspiring program, the opportunity to learn and grow is mutual,” he noted. “Not only do young people gain exposure to the world of policing, but our Service members have the opportunity to learn from youth, to hear from the future leaders in our community and understand their ideas and their hopes.”
In thanking the graduates for choosing to spend the summer with Toronto Police, Pringle expressed confidence that they will be forever changed by the experience.
“I am also confident that our organization and its people have been forever positively changed by the impact you made this summer,” he said. “Remember the lessons that you have learned here, both the special skills and abilities that you have been taught as well as the core competencies like teamwork, integrity and respect in all that you do…Whether you return to work with Toronto Police in the future, as I hope many of you will do, or partner with us in the community, you will bring to any job or endeavor an approach of professionalism, a dedication to duty and a desire to leave our City better than you found it.”
The valedictorians were Gohul Tharmakulaseelan, Fatima Mamache and Zandrian Whyte.
Mamache was grateful for the opportunity to work with Canada’s largest municipal police service.
“This was my first job experience and it was not what I was expecting, let alone being a valedictorian,” the Victoria Park Collegiate Grade 11 student said. “I always thought my first job would be related to retail or working in a grocery store. I am glad it wasn’t because I learned so much about the police and myself.”
Tharmakulaseelan said the program provided him with one of the best experiences he has ever had.
“From the Toronto Caribbean Carnival to the tours, early morning uniform checks and Officer Shepherd’s lecture on the use of force, there was never a dull moment,” said the Cedarbrae Collegiate Institute graduate who begins Business & Technology Studies next month at Ryerson University. “…I joined the program because I needed to learn how to be patient and to get people skills. I can definitely say I got both of those through this program. Now I am able to confidently step in front of a large group of people and speak without panicking as I did before.”
Whyte said the program has prepared her and the other graduates to be leaders.
“It has given us the opportunity to make a difference, not only in our community, but in someone else’s life,” the Weston Collegiate Institute Grade 12 student noted.
Over the last eight weeks, YIPI’s were actively engaged across the city.
Those assigned to 12 Division delivered community presentations on safety, the 14 Division participants helped organize deployment paperwork for the Canadian National Exhibition, about 20 students took part in the Special Olympics Ontario Invitational Youth Games Volunteer Appreciation Barbecue and nearly 100 of them were in this year’s Toronto Caribbean Carnival.
Also, YIPI’s at 51 Division worked with Haven Toronto which is Canada’s only drop-in center serving elderly men who have been impacted by poverty, homelessness and social isolation.
For three of the students at 22 Division, it was their first job and they relished the experience.
“They had never being in a work environment before and they needed to learn that they are part of our community,” said Const. Nicole Sutton who is a School Resource Officer.
The students conducted vehicle safety checks and volunteered at a food bank and the local Humane Society.
“Having those young people provided us with a perspective and they brought us up to speed with some of the stuff they are doing in school,” said 22 Division Const. Shari Nevills. “We enjoyed having them around.”
Mayor John Tory, who is also a TPSB member, hopes the graduates will use the program and the investment made in it by stakeholders as an inspiration to become involved in community service.
“There is no reason you need to wait until you finish high school,” he said. “I started volunteering at age 14 and it has been the most fulfilling work I have done.”
Ontario’s Premier Doug Ford thanked officers for taking the time to show the students the ropes.
“You can’t ask for a better mentor than a police officer,” he said. “…The skills you learn will be invaluable to your future career and your success. For some of you, that may be policing.”
Having parents buy into the program is a critical part of its success.
Social worker Paul Oha was on hand to see his daughter, Grace Oha, graduate.
“She had a job at Canada’s Wonderland, but after a friend told her about the YIPI program, I encouraged her to be part of it because this is something you experience once in a lifetime,” he said. “She has had a great time in the program in that it has helped her to engage in some activities that will help her in the future.”
YIPI graduate Ole Anderson, who aspires to be a Toronto Police officer, sang the national anthem.