When Joel Tobin walks into Sardis secondary school in his RCMP gear, he knows the uniform he wears is an impediment to his job.
“I think people just see it as an institute, and they don’t even see the person,” the 34-year-old says.
As school liaison, he’s there to steer students in the right direction.
But if they won’t talk to him, how can he do it?
You start doing stuff with them with the uniform off, and it gets broken down pretty quick,” Tobin says. “They see you and they’re not afraid of you. They come up and talk to you and all of a sudden the other kids think, ‘Well, he can’t be that bad because so-and-so is talking to him’.”
Tobin’s biggest trust-building move was to start an Olympic lifting club at the school.
Operating out of the weight-room at first before moving to the Cross-Fit facility (45778 Gaetz St.), the class was about fitness on the surface.
Beneath the surface, it was about a whole lot more.
“The idea came from a Youth in Gangs conference, where I listened to people who were involved with gangs,” Tobin explains. “The thing that stuck out in their mind is they had nothing to belong to. If they had a club or something they enjoyed doing and got satisfaction out of it, that would have been a positive. In the end they found it somewhere else where it was a negative.”
Tobin’s work extends beyond Sardis secondary school.
He also works with youth probation cases.
“One is a youth who’s been in trouble with the law,” Tobin says when asked about tangible results. “If he gets in a situation where he feels he’s going to get in trouble by breaching his conditions, he can talk about it before he ends up back at the youth detention centre where he hates to be. We’re trying to get him going in right direction, and the Olympic lifting club is a tool.”
It is tough work, and sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day.
But at the end of the day, Tobin is comfortable knowing that he has helped to make a difference.
“You can only do so much and sometimes you have to be happy with what you do,” he says. “I’m happy knowing this has become a positive place for them to come.”