TAVIS connects with communal courtyard

The brisk October air and heavy dark clouds didn’t stop the kids from 3181 Eglinton Ave. E. from helping their friends at the Toronto Police plant shrubs and flowers in their courtyard Saturday.

The landscaping initiative was one of the many projects the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS) runs to help enhance safety and reduce crime in GTA neighbourhoods. This gathering was another event TAVIS has supported in making the building’s courtyard a more inviting communal place.

“We spent the entire summer here,” Officer Jason Shankaran of TAVIS team 2 said. “This is a gathering spot for the community and you’ll only know this when you spend time here.”

The six officers with TAVIS team 2, who work within the Scarborough Village area, were all present with garden shovels in hand hoping to bring the community together. Their work for this particular neighbourhood started a few months ago and has had a very positive impact.

“Even the parents have said they’ve seen a lot more kids out here,” Officer Macleod of 43 division said. “No one even used to hang out here before. Now, the kids will go out and play basketball or play in the field.”

And that they did. After digging up soil, planting bulbs and applying cedar mulch, the 11 kids swapped their gardening gloves for a basketball and hit the pavement. Officers Anita Poole and Macleod, who declined to provide his first name, joined in as well.

The other officers mingled with the parents of the children, cracking jokes over coffee.

“Something like this could never have happened unless the moms and kids actually knew us by our first names,” Shankaran said. “When we first came into this community we were met by mistrust and hostility because they thought we were coming in to strictly enforce. It took several weeks to start building those bridges getting to the point where we are today.”

With strong ties with the police, the residents of the building know about these initiatives simply by word of mouth. By knocking on their doors, the officers are certain they will participate.

“If [the kids] know the officers and other parents and kids, they’re more likely to want to be their friend,” said Genese Johnson, resident of the building and mother of two. “And when they see something new coming along and being a part of it, it’s encouraging and fun.”

As residents walked by, they were pleased with the transformation. One woman commented on how beautiful the new garden looked, asking who was responsible for making it happen. Shankaran, pointing to the basketball court, replied “those kids.”

Five-year-old Elysia, the youngest of the group, refrained from playing basketball and instead practised her spelling — the names of all who helped. The ties of friendship amongst the kids have already grown strong.

Sweating and covered in dirt, the kids wiped their hands and enjoyed lunch with the officers. Joking and conversing with each other like one big family. When asked if they’ve had fun, with their mouths full of pizza they nodded in agreement.

But who will take care of this garden now? Elysia said she would, but she needs a few additional resources.

“I don’t have a watering thingy,” she said.

“What we want to do is give people a chance to show that they do have the power to make a difference for themselves,” Shankaran said. “The more things there are like this out here, the less crime there will be.”