By RON FANFAIR
Most people are afraid to get their hands dirty. Not Alesha Turcott, whose hands and clothes are often filled with engine grease and oil stains while assisting her uncle who has a mechanic shop in Alberta.
This was the first summer in seven years that she didn’t make the trip to western Canada. That’s because the 17-year-old was among 153 students from some of the city’s designated priority neighbourhoods who participated in the Toronto Police Service (TPS) Youth in Policing Initiative (YIPI) eight-week program that concluded last Friday.
Turcott, who aspires to be a mechanic with the Canadian Armed Forces, was assigned to the TPS garage.
“That was a great placement for me because I got the opportunity to upgrade my mechanical skills and gain more experience in the field,” she said.
The West Hill Public School Grade 12 student said the YIPI experience has been life-changing.
“Through this program, I have learned how to overcome my fears of speaking in front of people,” she said. “Now, I have the ability to speak and voice my words and opinions with confidence. I also now realize that police are approachable and they are there to help and work with us as a community to make our city better.”
Turcott and Weston Collegiate Institute Grade 12 student, Aqib Mannan, were this year’s valedictorians.
“As part of the youth community, we crave for opportunities to blossom,” Mannan said. “This program definitely serves that need and I hope it doesn’t go away.”
This is the 10th year that the TPS has administered the summer program.
Ministry of Children & Youth Services project manager, Sonia Bozzo, praised Canada’s largest police service for ensuring that the program flourishes.
“Successful initiatives such as the YIPI program take planning, energy and commitment,” she said. “Over the past decade, your organization’s dedicated staff has allowed the program to thrive, offering up a positive and worthwhile experience for participating students. The Ontario government is proud to support the program as part of our commitment to help young people like those of you graduating today realize your full potential. We want you to succeed because your success benefits the community, those around you and, most importantly, you.”
The YIPI program emerged as a summer employment opportunity for young people from some of the city’s designated priority neighbourhoods to gain valuable work experience and feel positive and confident about their experiences which they take back to their communities.
The Toronto Police Services Board has been supportive of the program from its inception.
“I am sure this summer has been a tremendous learning opportunity for you,” said vice-chair, Chin Lee. “I am confident that each of you will be forever changed by this experience.”
Chief Mark Saunders congratulated the graduates and thanked them for their commitment to the program.
“Eight weeks of full-time work is something that’s going to resonate on your next job application,” he told them. “The success is not in the program. It’s in you. When you listen to the narrative surrounding young people, it’s just a very small fragment they are talking about. When we have these programs, we get to see the true reality of the young men and women that are here today. Our future is looking very bright.”
Saunders acknowledged former Ontario cabinet minister, Mary Anne Chambers who has attended every graduation ceremony since the program started a decade ago. It was under her watch as Ontario’s Minister of Children & Youth Services that the program was launched.
“It’s not the same if I don’t see you here,” said Saunders. “Whenever there is a community that’s in need of support, women are the first to step up to the plate.”
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.
A YIPI after-school winter program was established three years ago.
A total of 1,950 students have graduated from both programs.