Growing up is never easy, but what if there were a program to help kids through it?
Police Athletic Leagues across the country have made it their mission to connect with kids through sports.
The nonprofit organization was established to prevent juvenile crime and violence by providing mentorship and recreational enrichment. There are over 300 chapters across the country.
In San Antonio, there are two locations with over 500 kids enrolled in the program.
Officer Hugo Daniel said there are several activities that allow officers to bond with youth.
“We deal with all kinds of sports,” he said. “We play basketball, volleyball; In the summer, we do baseball. Here, at this specific center, we brought boxing at onetime and jujitsu. So we do everything, we try to incorporate a bit of everything. There’s not that stigma where I am, like, an officer, and I have to act a certain way.”
Numbers suggest when kids have more free time on their hands, it can lead to bad choices and serious consequences. The U.S. Department of Justice estimated 424,300 juveniles were arrested in 2020. Some of the crimes committed during that time include, theft, drug abuse violations and vandalism.
“Kids, when they get out of school, they have nothing to do, they get involved in the wrong things. They get out at 4, or whatever time, until they go home at 6,” Daniel said. “They have a two-hour window or two-and-a-half-hour window where they go, they get to choose whether they do bad things or do good things.”
Officers involved in the PAL program determine where youth are most at risk and connect with school districts or parents.
Sandra Brown said she wanted to break barriers.
“As we were growing up with, we would go to the police, talk to the police. Now, with all the changes that have been going on, it does put a fear in your heart that my child is innocent, and something may happen to him, with the police,” Brown said. “But I had to explain to my grandson, ‘Do not be afraid of the police. When you respect them, and they will respect you.’”
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Brown heard about the program and enrolled her two grandchildren. She said she has seen positive changes since they became involved with PAL.
“I want them to be confident enough that they can achieve any goals that they want to achieve. It makes me proud that I didn’t have to worry. As a mother, you’re going to worry. But I didn’t have to worry because I know they were taking good care,” she said.
Some of the benefits of mentorship include healthier relationships and lifestyle choices, better attitudes about school, and enhanced self-esteem and confidence.
“The neighborhood that we’re in, is in a safe, completely safe neighborhood. But at least I don’t have to worry about where they’re at and what they’re doing. To me, if this program wasn’t here for them, that could lead them on another track,” Brown said.
One of the biggest challenges for the nonprofit is getting kids to take the first step.
“You get to go work for a big company. You’re going to need that teamwork, right? You’re going to take your losses in life. I tell kids all the time, it’s not about winning or losing. It’s just what matters is that you were out here that’s winning. A lot of kids don’t even want to take that step. You coming out here, you’re winning already,” Daniel said.
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