Friday, January 10, 2014

Police Athletic League is changing lives

I recently attended a Police Athletic League board meeting and was so impressed with what I saw and heard. In case you haven’t heard of it, KCPD’s Police Athletic League (PAL) aims to offer youth the opportunity to interact with police officers in a positive setting while participating in cultural, mentoring and sports programs with the main emphasis placed on academics. PAL is a non-profit organization staffed by Kansas City Police officers. A board of very generous folks from around the area governs the organization.

The impact PAL has had on the lives of urban-core children, many of whom live in poverty, cannot be overstated. Some of these children have gone on to college with academic and athletic scholarships, attaining careers they never would have thought possible at employers like Ford and Sprint. One graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and is a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy. Another is an NBA player. I have been so touched and impressed with the difference PAL is making that I've ordered all of our command staff to spend some time at PAL by the end of March to understand the impact it's having on our community.

Below are just a few of PAL’s recent success stories, as shared by Youth Services commander Captain James Thomas:

* One of our seventh/eighth-grade tackle football players passed out during practice. The young man, who is in pretty good shape, was really struggling. The coaches/officers offered first aid, and the young player fortunately suffered no permanent health issues. But in talking with the player, the officers discovered he had not eaten for a couple of days. The officers then met with the single mother and discovered there was little food in the household. Despite working two jobs, she had severe financial struggles, and the kids were often responsible for preparing their own meals while she was at work. The officers immediately developed a plan, reaching out to corporate PAL partners to create an emergency food drive, while contacting city services to link the family with financial assistance. The officers did this in a low-key manner so as not to embarrass the family. The young player had been ashamed of his background and refused to share his struggles with anyone else, even when it made him sick. But because of the relationship he had with the officers of the PAL Center, he finally opened up, and his whole family was able to receive much-needed assistance.

* A PAL officer met a 10-year-old boy at his school while recruiting for our flag football team. He was going down the wrong path, getting in trouble at school and getting bad grades. The boy agreed to play for the team, but his mother disapproved because she didn’t like police. The PAL officer explained the benefits of the PAL program and although skeptical, the mother agreed to let her son participate. In addition to football, he enrolled in the PAL Upper Room reading program. The Officer took on a father/parent figure role and mentored the child, as many of the officers do with all our kids. The young man became an A/B student and has formed a strong bond with the officer. Not only has the young man gained an adult mentor, his mother now has a positive attitude about the police.

 * A young girl came to PAL as a broken 9-year-old. We had no idea of her struggles, but through a relationship with an officer/coach, it was discovered she had low self-esteem and lacked confidence. She was very isolated and had been accosted by an adult family member. The officer asked if she would be interested in boxing. Although reluctant at first, she decided to give it a try. Today, she is a thriving young person full of confidence and a peer leader at PAL. She has found success in school and in the boxing ring. She is a permanent fixture at PAL and is a shadow of the person who first came to us. She mentors, referees games, and assists younger children with homework and reading.

* Two of our PAL kids were involved in a drive-by shooting at their house. The shooting arose out of a dispute over a girl, and a 2-year-old in the home was shot. The toddler was in the hospital for about a week. Although both parents worked, the family had limited income. PAL officers and Board members donated time and money for meals to ensure the family received essential needs. The 2-year-old returned home, and the family celebrated with a donated Thanksgiving Day feast. The officer who was working with the family made a home visit and found that the family did not have enough beds for all family members legs and lived out of a mini refrigerator. A collection was taken among officers and friends of officers to purchase the family two sets of bunk beds and a full-size refrigerator.

* Last month, officers learned a PAL youth was living in a household with no electricity or heat. The family was cooking dinner on a barbecue grill. Board members learned of the situation and procured a stove, water heater and worked with utility companies to get utilities restored to the house. This included a mini makeover of the house to improve insulation and rewiring the house to make it safe.

If you'd like for your child to be involved in the Police Athletic League, call Sergeant Brad Deichler at 816-413-3621.

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