This past August, I had the opportunity to join newcomer youth as they participated in a week-long outreach camp called Police and Youth Engagement Program (PYEP). PYEP brings police and newcomer youth together to remove misconceptions, build trust and create a safe and comfortable environment to spark relationship-building interactions. The camp provided youth with an opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at policing in Edmonton, receive specialized training and develop skills in communication, problem solving and community capacity building.
The core of the camp is the positive relationship-building experience between the communities and police, with police assistance in fostering youth leadership skills, changing negative stereotypes and building long-term relationships. By providing these positive interactions and introducing role models, youth are more encouraged to stay engaged in non-crime affiliated activities.
The camp was offered free of charge and is funded by City of Edmonton, Edmonton Police Foundation, Edmonton Police Service and REACH Edmonton. Approximately 44 youth registered for the camp from the following communities: Oromo, Sudanese, Somali, Eritrean/Ethiopian and Syrian/Iraqi/Nepalese. The program was designed for youth aged 14-17 and in the school grades nine to 12.
Daily sessions covered topics ranging from personal wellness, safety and growth, leadership and youth & the law. On occasion, they were prompted to interact with organizers and their peers to talk about racism and culture in relation to the law. This provided an opportunity for all program organizers to understand the experience from the youth’s perspective. Some shared that they did not have positive experiences with authority in their home country, but were hopeful for a different relationship with authority figures in Canada. It was touching to hear these stories and also inspiring to witness them thinking about the how their lives could be impacted by positive interactions with police.
After attending a few sessions throughout the week, I started building relationships with some of the youth and was amazed with their inquisitive natures. Asking questions about police protocol, appropriate avenues to report crimes and how to get into a career in enforcement. It was evident that this group was interested in more than just learning about policing topics, asking how they could get involved in their communities to become leaders and really make a difference.
This year’s program also offered a session on career development and thinking about future endeavours. It was here that I had the opportunity to speak to the group about employment opportunities with the City of Edmonton. Along with fellow City of Edmonton colleagues, I spoke about qualities that are beneficial to being a successful candidate: communication and leadership skills, teamwork and strong work ethics. Luckily, all of these skills were practiced throughout the week of the camp and youth were interested in learning about transferring these skills onto resumes for volunteer and job opportunities. Over 30 youth signed up for a follow-up session at the end of September to discuss opportunities and get connected with the City of Edmonton.
I commend the organization of the program and specifically the youth leaders who were hired to help organize, coordinate and facilitate the camp. Many of these leaders were previous camp participants, coming from Syrian, Iraqi, Somali, Ethiopian and Sudanese communities, and within their roles, they encouraged their peers to stay involved and engaged to get the full value of the programming throughout the week. These youth leaders demonstrated great leadership skills and often had their guidance sought after on how to approach a variety of different situations.
Overall, it was a tremendous experience to be part of and from the snippets of feedback I heard from the youth, they enjoyed their week as well. I look forward to staying involved with this program and continue to see its impact on our communities here in Edmonton. Youth who graduate from this program go back to their communities ready to share their learnings and promote the opportunity to others for next year’s camp.