Program helps youth, police understand each other

By RON FANFAIR

Amanda Maitland’s perception of Toronto police was limited to uncomplimentary and negative vibes she heard from schoolmates and friends.

That however has changed after her summer internship in the Toronto Police Service (TPS) Youth in Policing Initiative (YIPI) six-week program. She now wants to work for the police after securing a Masters in Social Work.

“The officers I worked with were very friendly and I have a new respect for the work that police do,” said the class valedictorian at last week’s graduation. “Their work involves so much more than just keeping the city safe. This has been a very rewarding and meaningful experience and we have learned a great deal about what goes on behind the scene at our local police stations.”

The Senator O’Connor College School graduate, who was assigned to 41 Division, said her school’s liaison officer and the child needs worker encouraged her to apply for the program.

“I was a bit hesitant at first, but they convinced me this job would be the highlight of my summer,” Maitland, who enjoys reading, playing basketball and volunteering, said. “They were right.”

The 18-year-old enters George Brown College’s three-year Child & Youth Worker program in January. She also intends to pursue her Masters degree at Ryerson University.

“When I graduate, I would like to come back and work with the Toronto Police in their Youth Services unit to make a positive difference in the lives of children and young people,” she said. “That’s my long-term goal.”

Maitland was among 150 high schoolers to graduate from the program conceived five years ago to positively engage young people from some of the city’s designated priority neighbourhoods who face significant challenges, including finding summer employment.

Toronto Police Service Board chair Dr. Alok Mukherjee said the young people have been a very special part of the TPS this summer.

“I am confident that each one of you will be forever changed by this experience and that it will influence you in the years to come,” he said. “Not only do our young people gain exposure to the world of policing, but our service members have the opportunity to learn from our youth who come from such a wide variety of backgrounds to understand their lives, ideas, insights and their hope.”

Deputy Chief Keith Forde joined Mukherjee and York Centre MPP Monte Kwinter in presenting the graduates’ certificates. It was Forde’s final official TPS ceremony before he retired last Tuesday.

“As I was sitting there wondering what I would say, I said to myself nothing would make me happier than to speak to a group like you, knowing that for 38 years I have fought for this service to become more inclusive,” he said. “When we look at this program, I think it speaks volumes of the distance we have travelled as a police service…I hope that whoever succeeds me will continue to push for a cadet program as an extension of the YIPI initiative.”

Kwinter, the chair of the Ontario Investment & Trade Advisory Council and the Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Economic Development & Trade, also addressed the graduates.

“This summer, you have gained new skills, earned new job references for future employment, built up your confidence along the way with your resume and made some money,” he told the young people. “What better reference can you get than one from the police. That’s like a license to get any job that you want.”

The YIPI program is a component of the province’s Youth Opportunities Strategy to help young people who face barriers achieve success.

“Many teenagers get a summer job through family, friends or someone who can help them make the first introduction,” Kwinter said. “But not everyone has a parent, a neighbour or an aunt or uncle who can get them a job in their office. That’s where the Youth Opportunities Strategy and the Summer Jobs program come in. They are a way of helping youth like you make connections and get that all important summer job and because we want you to choose the best path in life and to be successful, this lays the groundwork for your life.

“You are taught skills you can use both in life and in your future careers. These jobs also teach you how to take responsibility, ways to contribute to your community and the importance of being a role model. We are looking for you to be ambassadors when you go back into your peer groups and to be a leader and promote what it means to be a contributing member of society.”

In 2008, the YIPI program was permanently incorporated in the Ontario government’s list of youth programs and last year, the Ministry of Children & Youth Services increased its funding to the program to accommodate a 50 per cent increase in hires.

The Ministry of Community Safety & Correctional Services collaborated with the TPS to participate in the program for the first time this summer, hiring eight students to work at Mimico Correctional Centre.

“This was an excellent opportunity for us to get exposed to young people and for our organization to get rejuvenated,” said Mimico’s superintendent David Mitchell who is also chair of Toronto Community Housing.

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