Whether you have heard of them yet or not, Odd Squad members have been making a difference in our city’s most troubled area since 1997. A group of concerned Down Town East Side (DTES) beat cops decided to “take something out of that sordid mess that we were tasked with policing and make it positive” was how founding member and new Executive Director, Tobin Hinton, described the beginning.
Operating as a charitable entity, the group does not receive any funding or financial support from the Vancouver Police Department and the contributors are made up of police officers, retired officers, and volunteers. This year’s annual Christmas fundraiser was held at Central City on Beatty Street and it was packed.
The original team created a reality type drug education presentation for youth and the community. They began filming documentaries through Odd Squad Productions, which are now presented across the country. The goal is to educate youth about the realities of life on the street and the devastation caused by drug use and gang life. Tobin, who served 24 years in the DTES as a street cop, explained how the devastation on the street is a real shock when it is presented from a reality point of view. “A lot of the film subjects we were friends with from the street, many are no longer with us. Serena Abbotsway was one of the first victims identified on Pickton’s farm…April Reoch, Tears for April, she was murdered in 2000. We have strong personal connections and the need will always be there.”
Juno award winner and Entertainment Hall of Famer, Jim Byrnes, sits on the board of directors for Odd Squad and also gives of his time to perform at the fundraising events. Between sets I caught up with Jim to find out why he was so passionate about supporting this cause.
“I’ve got some real good friends who were the guys who started this. Myself, I was on that street at one time in my life, I know what life on the street is like and I know how things can go. A couple bad decisions and things can go wrong. I was lucky to have people that loved me and I was able to walk away from that street.” Jim went on to share, “I think that the work that we do with the Odd Squad to show what can happen and to show young people how to make better decisions is so important…I will support it to the bitter end.”
Diana Zoppa, the new president, got her start with Odd Squad back in 1998 when she organized their first fundraiser at the Commodore. “I’ve been with them ever since.” Diana shared some thoughts as the successful event came to a close. “Our goal was about $40,000 and I am sure we met it.” The next event for Odd Squad Productions? “We have an event that we do in May called Jewels and Jeans which we have always done at Birks.” Plans for 2016? “We are going to educate as many kids as we can with Peer2Peer programs, give more presentations all over the lower mainland and produce 3 big films. We are also really focused on gang awareness.”
A great cause and a really great group of people giving a tremendous amount back to the community. If you would like more information, please go to www.oddsquad.com
This article for BLUSHVancouver contributed by Leeta Liepins. Follow Leeta on her website!