As mom to three bustling boys – the mayor among them – it should come as no surprise that Diane Ford has patched a few holes in her Etobicoke home’s walls through the years.
That do-it-yourself expertise came in handy Thursday morning as she and daughter-in-law Karla Ford, wife of Etobicoke North Councillor Doug Ford, picked up their putty knives alongside a roomful of local moms and kids at the third edition of 23 Division’s Cool Tool School.
“As you can see by how we’re dressed, we’re ready to roll up our sleeves and do the job,” said a casually clad Ford, before taking a seat beside home-repair rookie Chauntelle Bowen, 19, and setting to work on patching some drywall.
At the front of the room, Sgt. Kevin Van Schubert of the Neighbourhood Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS) Initiative talked the participants through the repair job while explaining what the Cool Tool School is all about – community engagement and education.
“We want you to see us as not just policemen, but as people. We all have families, we all have houses, and we all have holes in our drywall,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where you come from – how rich or poor you are – you’re going to get a hole in your drywall someday. So this is just one little life skill...this is one little thing that I hope you can learn today.”
Offered to young people and single-parent families from the priority neighbourhood of Rexdale, Cool Tool School is an ongoing project based on a partnership between 23 Division and local clergy, explained Supt. Ron Taverner. A strong supporter of Cool Tool School, Taverner lauded the initiative as one that empowers youth and helps build positive relations between the community and police.
“Basically, the project is to bring people from the priority neighbourhoods here to 23 Division to learn some basic home repairs – how to use a hammer, how to use a screwdriver, how to make minor drywall repairs,” he said. “Some of our officers who have expertise in this area have been teaching the participants and showing them how to use these tools correctly. And at the end of the program, they’ll end up walking out of here with a very nice tool kit that the local clergy have helped to provide.”
The brainchild of Pastor Allan Bowen of Abundant Life Assembly – who has helped arrange tool donations from local hardware and renovation stores to facilitate the workshops – Cool Tool School was born out of a recent encounter with a group of kids bored into a destructive streak, he said at Thursday’s session.
Late last November, Bowen was visiting a family living in public housing in Newmarket when he heard the family’s back fence being ripped apart by a group of young boys. Bowen shouted for them to stop, scaring them away, but not 15 minutes later the boys returned and resumed their destruction.
Again, Bowen confronted the group – this time asking their 13-year-old leader if he’d like a hammer to repair the fence instead.
“He said ‘sure,’ so I went out and got him a hammer and he was thrilled,” he said. “Sure enough, 15 minutes later, he was banging the fence back together.”
Six weeks passed, and while on a return visit to the Newmarket family Bowen sought out the boy once again, this time offering him a saw to continue his handiwork.
“Then his mother showed up and said ‘hey, don’t give him tools unless you intend to teach him how to properly use them,’” he recalled chuckling. “That was how Cool Tool School was born.”
In addition to going home with their own toolkits at the end of the program, Cool Tool School participants will also be able to put their names in for additional Carpenter’s Club workshops in the fall, Bowen said.
The hope, he explained, is to get youth interested in trades programs.
“We want to sell youth on the dream,” he said. “Wanna make money? Get out of the hood? Get yourself a trade.”