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'Future leaders': Local students LEAP into action via OPP program

'I feel more inspired to change my life for the better,' says OSS student after motivational speaker addressed local youth prior to community barbecue

Inspirational speakers, volunteer opportunities, and a community barbecue are all part of the Orillia OPP’s new LEAP (leadership, education, activity, partnership) program that sees local police striving to positively influence local youth and help them give back to their community.

This week, 21 youth from high schools around the city will participate in the four-day program, running from July 10-13, and Orillia OPP detachment commander, Coyer Yateman, said he hopes it can foster positive relationships between youth and local officials.

“Positive interactions with youth are so important. These are our future leaders,” Yateman told OrilliaMatters. “In order for them to feel comfortable around police, whether it's fire department, ambulance, councillors, mayors, all those sorts of people, you need to have these interactions.”

On Monday, youth, police, and staff from the local Harvey’s eatery came together to host a community barbecue at the Orillia Youth Centre, serving up burgers, free of charge, to anybody who wished to have one.

The event is one of many taking place that will see youth connect with local organizations and volunteer throughout the city.

“I hope they build some confidence,” Yateman said. “I hope they learn about the community and learn about the services we have in this great city, and I hope they develop some friendships, as well, along the way.”

Some of the week’s activities include the following:

  • Speakers on a variety of topics, including keynote speaker Joe Roberts, sharing his story about going from homelessness and addiction to success;
  • Community volunteering work, such as waterfront cleanup, which can be applied to students’ needed volunteer hours for graduation;
  • A charity car wash, Tuesday at 1 p.m. at Rotary Place, with the Orillia Fire Department, with all proceeds going to a charity to be selected by the youth;
  • Visits to the Lighthouse, the Orillia Public Library, and Information Orillia; and more

Kegan Batchilder, a student at Orillia Secondary School (OSS), said he has found the week insightful so far, as he hopes to become a police officer himself some day.

“This will give me some good insight into what I need to do to achieve that as well as (being) a nice week to help other people,” he told OrilliaMatters.

He says the LEAP program has provided him with a sought-after opportunity to connect with the city’s front line workers.

“I've always been interested in events like this, but there just hasn't really been that many,” he said. “This is probably the third time I've ever been involved with like police like this.”

OSS student Cameron Walker said he jumped at the chance to get more involved with the community.

“It was something I really wanted to do so I could really help out the community,” he said.

Walker particularly enjoyed Monday morning’s talk from Joe Roberts, who told his story of becoming successful after experiencing homelessness.

“It was a really powerful talk and, mentally, afterwards I feel a little more inspired,” he said. “After that, I feel more inspired to change my life for the better.”

The LEAP program arrives as the result of work between the OPP and Lakehead University social work students, who completed their placements with local police, explained OPP Sgt. Matt Stoner.

“It was an idea that we had to have one of these weeks, and they brought it to fruition … making connections with the community and all of our partners that we work with,” he said.

“The whole week is designed to give them exposure to the resources available to people in the community, whether they're in crisis, addiction, mental health or just in need … and how to steer clear of those, but also what resources are there to help their friends and family, if anybody is in need.”

This spring, the Orillia Police Services Board approved $3,000 in funding to help out with the program, and Coun. Ralph Cipolla, board chair, was at the community barbecue Monday.

“It's really important that we educate our youth on the opioid crisis that we're having, as well as the mental illness and the homelessness that is happening. After conversation with Joe Roberts this morning, the kids were just so impressed,” Cipolla said. “To me, that was the highlight of the whole thing.”


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Greg McGrath-Goudie

About the Author: Greg McGrath-Goudie

Greg has been with Village Media since 2021, where he has worked as an LJI reporter for CollingwoodToday, and now as a city hall/general assignment reporter for OrilliaMatters
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