The City of Montreal says it will help save a program in Saint-Michel that helps young people from minority groups become police officers and firefighters.

When Mitchell Vallon first walked into Centre Lasallien in Saint-Michel, he saw teens working out, getting help with their homework and getting mentored. He thought he’d give it a try.

"I said, 'Oh, might as well join it because I could skip a class," he recalled.

Maybe the initial appeal was a few hours out of class, but he quickly learned this program could help him realize his dream of becoming a firefighter — his way of giving back to a community that welcomed his family five years ago.

"When we came here, we didn’t really have a lot of opportunities because we were refugees, so if I become a cop or a firefighter, I’ll be part of the community and make my parents proud," he said.

The program is called the emergency workers coaching program. Its goal is to guide students on their journeys to becoming police officers or firefighters.

Sgt. Yves Expérience is one of the mentors.

"Sometimes the kids are on that thin line and sometimes with a good person around them, especially someone like me that’s a police officer, they can reflect on that and they can make some choices that are good for them," Expérience said.

Saint-Michel is an area where there have been problems with gang activity and some people in the community aren't very fond of the police.

"When we created the program, I didn’t think there would be that many people who wanted to be a police officer or a firefighter," said Paul Evra, the director-general of the community centre.

"When we into the classrooms at the nearby high school, we found there were lots who craved the opportunity but didn’t have the marks because no one would help them with their homework, or they had to work jobs while going to school, or they didn’t have the energy because they weren’t eating properly," Evra said.

It’s a challenge for some in the neighbourhood and Evra said Saint-Michel has the talent, but lack opportunities — something he learned when he put up a box for the people to write their dreams on paper and place them inside.

"Before the pandemic, half the dreams we got from young people were to have an extra meal," he said.

The centre worked with food banks and job placement agencies to combat hunger issues in the community and it’s now looking to help build up the youth by making other dreams come true.

For Henry Dang, that means helping him become a police officer.

"It’s a dream that I've had for a long time since I was a kid," he said.

Evra said that, "Montreal’s population needs to be served by people who look like them," because "that’s how you build bridges."

Three months ago, City Hall got word the program could be forced to shut down due to funding issues.

Alain Vaillancourt, who sits on the city's executive committee, intervened to help keep the project going with the help of a city grant.

There are also talks of trying to bring it to other boroughs on the island.