It was a phone call she had been waiting on for two years.
When Shernelle Phillip was notified a few weeks ago that she was selected for this year’s Youth in Policing Initiative (YIPI) summer employment program, she screamed out of pure joy.
Dejected last year after failing to make the final cut, the Etobicoke School of the Arts student could hardly contain her emotions.
“Some of my friends were accepted and I was disappointed I did not make it,” said the Grade 11 graduate. “I am just so happy to be part of this program and I am going to make the most of this opportunity.”
Phillip’s mother was among the few parents that attended this year’s program launch last week at police headquarters and heard her daughter sing the national anthem at the event.
“She was a bit down and out a year ago this time, but I am just ecstatic that I am here to celebrate with her,” said Kadian Augustin. “This is going to help her prepare for life after school.”
An aspiring criminal lawyer, Phillip – a former Holt Renfrew Christmas caroler and Toronto Raptors Mini Dance Pak member – also intends to pursue a career in the arts as a singer, dancer and actress.
Inspired by Alicia Keys and Etta James, the teenager performed in several British venues while on a peace mission to England in 2007.
Kai Gordon had more than one reason to be a proud attendee. Her son, Shomari Edwards and seven young people enrolled in the Pathways to Education program are also YIPI participants. Gordon is a mentoring co-ordinator at PE which helps youths in disadvantaged communities graduate from high school and successfully transition into post-secondary education.
“I am wearing two hats today and I don’t mind at all,” said Gordon, whose son is not in the national program that operates in a dozen communities across the country.
A spoken word artist, Edwards completes high school next year at Lester B. Pearson Collegiate Institute. He plans to become a criminal lawyer.
William Lyon Mackenzie Collegiate Institute Grade 12 student, Zakariya Ahmed, is delighted to be spending the summer employed with the police.
“Besides gaining job experience, this is a great opportunity to learn more about what law enforcement does,” he said.
Earning $10.90 an hour, the students will be exposed to the service’s 17 divisions and 48 support units in the next six weeks.
Established with the assistance of former provincial minister, Mary Anne Chambers, the YIPI program is a component of the province’s Youth Opportunities Strategy conceived 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.
Chambers makes it her duty to attend most YIPI ceremonies.
“I think of this as my baby and that’s why I am always here,” she said after this year’s intake introduction. “This program is clearly needed and I am happy the youths are getting this opportunity. I am here to support, encourage and recognize the fantastic work Toronto Police put into this every year.”
The recruits represent the eighth batch of high school students between the ages of 14 and 17 to be exposed to the program that caters to young people facing significant challenges, including finding summer employment.
Chief Bill Blair reminded the new recruits they have big shoes to fill.
“Those who have preceded you into this job have done us proud and you have a tremendous legacy to live up to,” he said. “I want you to know that we have great confidence in you, but we are counting on you to commit yourself this summer to hard work, learning opportunities and to enabling us to go out into our communities and keep the great city of Toronto and all its citizens safe.
“We are also counting on you to go on to become great citizens of this city and it’s your leadership and your contributions that are going to continue to make this a strong and livable city for everyone.”
From its inception, the Toronto Police Services Board has supported the initiative.
“The innovative YIPI program is one part of a comprehensive Board and Service strategy for enhancing safety in our communities,” said board chair, Dr. Alok Mukherjee. “It reflects the Board’s recognition of the importance of strong preventative measures dealing with issues of safety in our city. By recognizing and supporting the strength of our youths, this program helps to build future leaders in neighbourhoods across Toronto and gives our officers the unique opportunity to interact with young people and to learn first-hand about their lives, realities, hopes and aspirations.”
In response to the deadly Danzig Street shooting that claimed two young lives last July, the provincial government rolled out a youth action plan, with $20 million in new annual funding to improve the lives of young people in the city and the rest of the province.
As part of the plan, the summer-jobs-for-youth program in the city’s challenged neighbourhoods was expanded to provide 320 new after-school jobs during the school year, increasing to 440 additional part-time jobs this year.
The Toronto Police employed 63 students in the YIPI after-school program launched last January. The first intake graduated in April.
Since 2006, the Service has hired 1,116 young people.
“It’s kind of funny that some community leaders and adults were telling us a few years ago that our young people would not want to work with police,” said Chambers. “Sometimes, we as adults have barriers based on experience and not on current reality.”
There were 821 applicants for this year’s summer program.