As you may recall from Part One a couple weeks ago, the Her Time program is an anti-gang initiative started in 2017 by two incredible female VPD officers: Sergeant Sandy Avelar and Detective Anisha Myette. Today, we take a closer look at the impact Her Time is having, not only thousands of girls and women everywhere, but also on co-founders Sandy and Anisha as well.
Sandy is in her 25th year with the VPD and has recently returned to the Organized Crime Section-Gang Crime Unit as a Sergeant. Anisha is entering her 14th year in policing and was recently assigned to the VPD’s Major Crime Section – Homicide Unit, after dedicating years to the Organized Crime Section- Gang Crime Unit. At one point, Sergeant Avelar and Detective Myette were notably the only overt female gang partnership in the country.
Throughout their lengthy law enforcement careers, it became very apparent that there was a lack of education and resources for females involved in, or vulnerable to, the world of organized crime and gangs. Historically, gang education and prevention programs had been primarily male focused. This led Sandy and Anisha to create Her Time, the first anti-gang crime program of its kind – for women, by women.
“There is an important need for these resources for young women,” explains Anisha. “There have been a lot of programs dedicated to young men, and while necessary, it is also vital we provide the same for our female youth. We get feedback from all levels of law enforcement as well as special interest groups in the community stating this has been long overdue.”
Led by an all-female team of officers and life coaches, Her Time provides young women with a voice and the tool to be empowered to take control of their lives. Proactively, the program provides young women with the resources and knowledge about the dangers of gang lifestyle. Reactively, the program offers women currently involved or at high-risk to becoming involved in gang life the opportunity to connect with the detectives who will provide assistance with an exit strategy.
“Her Time empowers young women to make better decisions and be confident enough to steer away from a gang lifestyle,” says Anisha. “Women that have previously been involved and who work with us have unanimously agreed that they would have never entered the lifestyle had there been a ‘Her Time’ program available to them.”
“We also have so many women that are currently involved in the lifestyle that have reached out to us and requested help leaving the world of organized crime. There is a lot of contact being made with us and this is because we have opened up a topic that was ignored for so long and solely focused on males.”
One success story is that of Kimberly M. Kimberly was an insecure teenager who came from a difficult home where there was abuse and violence. Her gang member boyfriend showered her with love and attention, though the detectives are unequivocal in stating that his behaviour was targeted and predatory. She had two children with him because she thought it would make her the main woman in his life. When she found she was far from the main woman in his life, and never would be, she left him. However, she has no education or skills, has never had a job and will remain reliant upon him for financial support, at least until her children are grown. She’s focussing on skill development now but has a strong message for those that think gang life is “sexy.”
Her Time has also had an important impact on Sandy and Anisha over the last five years as well. Not only do they run the program entirely on a volunteer basis after shifts and on days off, they have learned a lot about themselves and others as well.
“Creating Her Time with Anisha has allowed me to meet many women who want to give back and contribute by sharing their experiences,” explains Sandy. “Each person I’ve met has helped me grow as a person and the program has shown that each of us can teach others and learn from others. It’s also been so great to see that there are many people who believe in the power of community and who are willing to go far beyond any expectations to help our youth flourish and grow into caring, responsible adults who look forward to giving back.”
Recent advancements in the program include adding virtual components, which got them through the first year of the pandemic, as well as launching two brick-and-mortar program locations in partnership with the Washington Kids Foundation. Located in North Vancouver and Cloverdale, they offer girls aged 8 – 18 years old with a twelve-week Her Time empowerment program that includes several coaches and Mentors facilitating the twice-weekly course. It emphasizes physical literacy, empowerment, mentorship, life skills, online safety, gang/drug prevention, education and relationship building skills.
“It’s been exciting to see the girls progress and come such a long way with their confidence,” says Anisha. “I have observed the power of change when these girls are provided with the right tools and environment. I have also seen the power of female officers connecting with these girls and showing them what commitment and dedication can do for an individual and their lifestyle choices.”
Next on their priority list is the launch of a much-needed phone helpline for young women. The Her Time Helpline is currently in development with the goal that it will be available 24/7 and monitored and run by trained trauma counsellors who will work closely with Anisha and Sandy.