The Santa Monica Police Activities League (PAL) offers youths six to 17 years old a variety of educational and recreational programs at no cost to participants.

The nonprofit organization is a collaboration between Santa Monica police officers and the City of Santa Monica.

With a mission to effectively reduce juvenile crime, the league provides after-school alternatives designed to engage youths in positive character-building activities in a safe setting.

Paid city staff, police officers and volunteers run this nonprofit organization, one of 100 chapters in California.

Located at 1401 Olympic Blvd. in Santa Monica, the Santa Monica Police Activities League Youth Center welcomes youths from noon until 10 p.m. Monday to Friday and from noon until 6 p.m. Saturdays.

On Fridays, the PAL Youth Center is open until 1 a.m. for youths 14 to 17 years old.

All activities are free to Santa Monica residents or students who submit an application and receive an ID card.

“There’s a sign-in sheet but we’re an open-door facility,” says Don Condon, PAL team program coordinator.

PAL staff members receive training in addition on conflict resolution, center guidelines and rules and what needs to be enforced or reported.

The center sees about 175 youths daily, except in the summer, when it provides a lunch from noon to 1 p.m. and sees 250 or more youths a day.

Karen Humphrey, the center’s program supervisor, says the main focus now is homework assistance.

“The kids get one-on-one help until they get back on track. We keep track of how the youth is doing and can talk to the parent or to the teacher,” she says.

“Some kids’ parents don’t speak English and they rely on PAL to communicate with the teacher,” she adds.

Condon says PAL programs “help kids gain confidence. Some are shy and struggling at school and we see them grow into leaders and see their grades improve.”

The center advises older teens about college scholarships and how to apply, offers a SAT (Student Aptitude Test) preparation class and a scholarship that PAL board member Neil Carrey started to honor his son, who died of cancer.

Humphrey says that by exposing the members to as many new experiences as possible allows participants to begin to see options and find hope.

“When you spend quality time with kids, you’d be surprised at what it can do,” Humphrey says. “They just want someone to listen to them and talk to them, not at them.”

Giving members new experiences isn’t always easy. Like other state programs, PAL experienced budget cuts this year, but a grant from the National Youth Enrichment Program received this year has helped.

PAL offers enrichment and recreational classes that accommodate about ten youths per class on a first-come-first-served basis.

“We have a new rock climbing program that promotes team building and teaches participants how to work together,” Humphrey says.

A cooking class at the center teaches youths recipes they can make while home alone.

There are ceramics, jewelry making and computer classes, as well as recreational excursions such as seeing a play and a trip to the snow.

The PAL center has a gym and the center offers a ten-week basketball program. A recreational league for all skill levels, the program is open to members 11 to 17 years old, according to Condon.

“They don’t have to try out and they all get to play a minimum of ten minutes a game.”

Condon says participants learn teamwork, with a focus on getting along and sharing. Besides basketball, the center adds volleyball in the summer.

A PAL running program helps youths train for the L.A. Marathon and is offered in conjunction with Students Run Los Angeles, which pays for shoes, race fees and uniforms on the day of the marathon.

Condon says the participants “learn discipline and they learn if they really want something they can accomplish it, because the marathon is difficult.”

Humphrey recalls one youth participant who was angry all the time and caused problems.

“Instead of suspending him from the center, I kept giving him positive feedback when I talked to him and eventually his whole attitude changed,” she says. “He joined the running program and ran the marathon.”

Four youths recently took a four-day trip to Sacramento, where they joined other California PAL groups.

The trip included workshops on how to be positive and how to dress for an interview, which expanded their business awareness, according to Humphrey.

Condon says the Youth Directors Council of youths from the center is self-run and acts as a liaison with the PAL board.

Council members do community service and choose programs for the center, giving them hands-on leadership training.

PAL staff members act as mentors to the youths.

“Some say, if it weren’t for PAL they’d have been in a gang,” Humphrey says. “If you come from a family of gang members and it’s all you know, PAL helps them to see options and make a decision against joining a gang.”

Condon says his satisfaction comes from “watching them grow from uncertainty to young adults with a vision and a plan and see them executing it.”

Information, Police Activities League, (310) 458-8988.

Julie Kirst can be reached at juliekirst@yahoo.com

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