Listening to some family members and friends talk negatively about police didn’t dampen Fiona Sunnyshine’s perception of Toronto’s finest as mainly helpful and caring.
The aspiring singer’s observations were confirmed after her eight-week stint in the popular Toronto Police Service Youth In Policing Initiative (YIPI) program that engages high school students between the ages of 14 and 17 from some of the city’s designated priority neighbourhoods who face significant challenges, including finding summer employment.
Sunnyshine, who will audition next month for the inaugural season of Canada’s Got Talent, was among 150 students who worked in 17 police stations and 32 TPS support units.
“I feel safe when I see the police, especially when I am alone at night,” said the Grade 12 Cardinal Carter Academy for the Arts student who grew up in the Jane-Finch neighbourhood before moving to Malvern five years ago.
Spending a summer with TPS also enabled Sunnyshine to establish quality relationships with some of the service’s female officers.
“They are approachable and I felt as if I could talk to them about anything,” said the former elementary school track and field star who aspires to be an audio engineer. “My whole experience with the Toronto police this summer has been positive.”
Conceived six years ago with the assistance of former provincial minister Mary Anne Chambers who attended the graduation ceremony, the YIPI program is a component of the province’s Youth Opportunities Strategy to help young people facing barriers achieve success.
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.
“The program continues to be a very emotional experience for me,” said Chambers. “Teenagers describe their summer as ‘awesome’ and parents line up to thank me and share the positive developments they have observed in their sons and daughters. And I observe the enthusiasm of police officers as they give me examples of why they are proud to be working with the youth.
“These reactions to the YIPI program serve to reinforce my belief that our young people have tremendous potential and simply need to be given opportunities to demonstrate that potential. It’s also obvious that the program helps to build self-confidence in the youth and positive relationships between the participants and between the young people and the police.”
Eglinton-Lawrence MPP Mike Colle saluted the graduates and hailed the program as a great high yield investment.
“The more we invest in our youths, the greater the returns will be down the road,” said Colle. “Our city, our province and our country will be stronger because I am certain that in this room today, we have future police officers and lawyers. We cannot underestimate the value we get from the money the province has put into this initiative.”
This year’s participants were engaged in a number of activities, including helping to raise funds for Habitat for Humanity and the Breakfast Club, organizing kids’ sports camps and community barbecues and taking part in local crime prevention efforts.
“Through such activities, you have been truly a part of this police service and this community,” TPS board chair Dr. Alok Mukherjee told the graduates. “I am sure this summer has been a tremendous learning opportunity for you and I am confident that each of you will be forever changed by this experience and that it will influence you in the years to come.
“Remember the lessons you have learned here, both the special skills and abilities that you have been taught as well as the core values like teamwork, integrity and respect that are a part of all that we do.”
Deputy Chief Mike Federico said the students made a tremendous contribution to the service’s business operations over the summer.
“They also helped us function and they helped inspire us,” he said. “These students represent the very best of Canada…They helped us understand all of the good dynamics that go along with building good relationships and they represented their communities well and their families proudly.”
Based on the negative vibes and feedback from friends, policing was not on Jason Roberts’ radar as a pursuable career at the start of the summer.
“I now have a better understanding of the police and their operations,” said Roberts who was this year’s class valedictorian. “I now know better and I want to be a police officer.”
Three TPS officers who have overwhelmingly supported the program from the inception were recognized at the graduation. They were Insp. Heinz Kuck of 51 Division; 33 Division’s Sgt. Steven Sattz and social media expert Const. Scott Mills.
A presentation was also made to Scarborough Area Parole and Probation manager David Mitchell who hired six students to work two-week rotations.
“They got an opportunity to see another aspect of the justice system,” Supt. Jim Ramer said. “It’s through these types of innovative community partnerships that our YIPI program continues to grow.”
The YIPI program has graduated 747 students since the inception in 2006. Only three students failed to complete the summer internship in that period.