Nathaniel Donaldson makes no bones about why he wanted to be a Toronto Police Service (TPS) Youth in Policing Initiative (YIPI) participant.
“It was the money,” he said at the graduation ceremony on August 26 at the TPS College. “At the beginning, that was all I was thinking about.”
After the first week, Donaldson found out there was more to the program that just a decent pay cheque.
“I realized this was gonna be something more than just a simple summer job,” the York Mills Collegiate Institute Grade 12 student said. “This was an opportunity for young people to gain valuable information on how our city’s police service functions as well as establish meaningful connections with fellow peers or with our supervisors that can lead us to a future job within TPS.”
Donaldson was assigned to the Homicide and Missing Persons Unit.
“Myself and another YIPI who was placed there were nervous on our first day,” he recalled. “That nervous feeling turned into delight as we started talking to our supervisors. During all my school days of volunteering, I have not seen a place that was this welcoming and easy going. The atmosphere was very warm. It was at this point that I was so glad that I applied to be a YIPI. I have friends who are now asking me about the program. I tell them it is great and they will learn a lot.”
Donaldson was one of three valedictorians.
The others were Noor Mir and Emmanuel Wegayhu.
Mir, who lives in Thorncliffe Park, thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
“It is astounding that we can stand here and say we worked for such an important organization in our society, one that is built to protect the citizens of our city and keep us out of harm,” she said. “Add to that the fact that this program is only accessible to students in neighbourhood improvement areas is significant proof that we have an obligation to enhance not only our communities, but make this world a better place for future generations.”
Prior to becoming a YIPI, Mir was unsure of a career path.
“After meeting such a diverse range of Toronto Police officers, I now know that Toronto Police is a place I can look to as a an organization I can join,” added the Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute student, who also volunteers at a local foodbank. “Knowing that I have the potential to positively impact not only the community in which I currently reside but society as a whole excites me.”
Going on field trips and mingling with Torontonians rank high on the list of activities Wegayhu enjoyed the most.
Not only were we able to witness how entertaining our Police Service is, but how many of them take ‘To serve and protect’ to heart,” said the Grade 12 student who speaks three languages and loves playing the saxophone.
Wegayhu, who played a musical selection for his peers and guests at the graduation, recalled his parents reaction after showing them a photo of his first pay cheque.
“My family told me they had to wait a long time to see three zeroes on their cheques,” he added. “That made me realize how difficult their journey was and the sacrifices they made to pave the way for me. As the first Canadian-born to Ethiopian immigrants, I am very mindful of the fact that, like many of my peers, I have an enormous responsibility to do better. This program was more meaningful to me as a result.”
In its 17th year, the annual summer program – established with the assistance of former provincial government Minister Mary Anne Chambers who attended the graduation – 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 $15 an hour, the YIPI students are exposed to the Service’s 17 Divisions and support units, working alongside both uniform and civilian members.
Chief James Ramer congratulated the students for completing the eight-week hybrid program.
“We have taken the opportunity to learn all we can from you and I hope you have learned from us,” he said. “Your successful completion of this program demonstrates your commitment to hard work and to reaching your goals. This is a big achievement and we admire the resilience so often displayed by YIPI participants, which stems from your belief that you can transform your communities and your city for the better. We believe this too.”
The Chief told the graduates he expects them to feel they are part of the Service and a sense of trust in TPS as an organization dedicated to community safety.
“I also hope you have gained more than just work experience, but also more confidence in yourselves and what you are capable of,” he added. “By all accounts, you worked hard during your time with us, whether you were taking part in mock trials or working in teams to develop Public Service Announcements about stress and anxiety, how to practice healthier habits or attending workshops with our Neighbourhood Community Officers where you learned about important TPS initiatives, like Race-Based Data Collection and ‘Engage 416’. During your time with us, we have benefited from your insights and contributions. It has been a pleasure to build relationships with 113 future leaders while opening your eyes to the complex and exciting world of policing.”
Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) has supported the program from the inception in 2006.
“In this program, the opportunity to learn and grow is mutual,” said Chair Jim Hart. “Not only do young people gain exposure to the world of policing but Service members too have the opportunity to learn from youth from a rich variety of backgrounds, to understand their lives, to hear their ideas, their insights and their hopes.”
This year’s participants took part in several activities, including the Toronto Police Amateur Athletic Association Children Playground Games, Rookie Ball, the Toronto Caribbean Carnival, the second annual Career Day event and a Blood Donation Drive.
“I hope that this has been a tremendous learning opportunity for you,” noted Hart. “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.”
At total of 64 graduates completed CPR first-aid training.
In 2008, the program was permanently incorporated into the Ontario government’s list of youth programs. A year later, the Ministry of Children & Youth Services expanded its funding to the program to accommodate a 50% increase in hires.
A YIPI after-school winter program was established nine years ago.
Community Program Manager Struan Remidos represented the Ministry of Children, Community & Social Services at the graduation.
He thanked the parents for attending the graduation and supporting their children through the program.
“You should all feel a sense of pride and joy today,” he told them. “Your presence is a testament to your commitment to the graduates.”
Remidos also congratulated the students for considering Toronto Police for a summer job.
“You were selected for your individual skills and abilities,” he added. “Throughout the summer, you have demonstrated your commitment to your community.”