Almost 500 people showed up Friday morning to hear stories about the successes of the Pinellas Sheriff’s PAL program.
The Police Athletic League program, which opened in Pinellas in 2001, is currently focused on helping underprivileged kids in the unincorporated Lealman area. Lealman is generally located between Pinellas Park and St. Petersburg and I-275 and Park Street. Kenneth City divides the area into two.
Lealman is a “very under-served part of Pinellas [with] a lot of kids, a lot of poverty, a lot of need,” Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said.
The PAL program provides more than 150 Lealman kids a safe place for sports, tutoring, and other activities. The ultimate goal is to keep those kids from becoming one of the approximately 5,000 youths that go into the Juvenile Assessment Center each year because they’ve gotten in trouble.
“I strongly believe law enforcement responsibility, first and foremost, is to prevent crime,” Gualtieri said.
Some PAL kids were routed there because they had gotten into trouble. Former Pinellas County Commissioner Neil Brickfield, the PAL executive director, said, among those kids, the recidivism rate is zero.
And there are other successes.
A video highlighted some of them. Two others spoke to the audience about their experiences. Fifteen-year-old Bruce said he came to PAL because the program teaches boxing and he wanted to defend himself because he was being bullied. He learned from the coaches that he is equal to others and that, when you’re knocked down, you get up again.
He also learned to play the guitar and found friends in a place he said made him feel safe. Now he’s on the honor roll at school and plans to go to college to become a musician and a chef.
“I told you I got good kids in Lealman,” Brickfield said. “PAL works. I know PAL works.”
He gave two more examples. One was a former PAL kid who now works in the emergency 9-1-1 call center at the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. The other is a former PAL kid who became an aviation mechanic and works on the Goodyear blimp.
Brickfield said, when you call for help or see the Goodyear blimp, “know that’s a PAL kid.”