By Max Goodwin
Officers welcomed a group of about 40 kids to the gym at KCPD South Patrol for a new expansion of the Police Athletic League to south Kansas City.
This is part of the first attempt of its kind to expand the PAL program in Kansas City beyond where it operates regularly at its downtown location.
Each Wednesday night starting at 5:30, the gym in the back of the South Patrol will be open for kids and parents to join the PAL activities and have a free meal. The first night, kids played basketball, ate pizza, and did some ice breaker activities to get to know the officers and each other.
“This was a dream by our previous major,” Sgt. Garron Carter, head of the PAL expansion program, said to kids gathered for the first session. “We started putting it together last fall, and here we are today. It’s glorious to see this many folks here.”
Former Commander at South Patrol, Maj. Darren Ivey had the idea to expand the PAL program to south Kansas City before he retired in December. Ivey wanted to bring the program to South Patrol, where kids can participate closer to their own neighborhood.
Many times resources are diverted into the core of the inner city but the same need exists in south Kansas City for a program like PAL, said Carter.
They first attempted in October, but not enough kids were showing up so they halted the idea and worked on some adjustments.
“We had four or five kids show up initially and you sit there scratching your head trying to figure out what can we do differently,” Carter said.
Instead of Friday nights, PAL was moved to Wednesday night. A local church, International House of Prayer, volunteered to pick the kids up and drop them off using their church buses. With Sergeant Carter at the lead, they planned how to best spend the time with the kids.
Josh Thompson brought his two kids and was serving as a volunteer for the first Wednesday night session of PAL at South Patrol with the International House of Prayer. He explained how the church used its buses as a community service to pick up kids from the Calico Farms and Westwood Heights neighborhoods, the Daisy Walnut apartment complex and drop them off after the event.
The church buses will keep shuttling kids each week for at least the next month, Thompson said. It was pretty easy to bring a big group of kids once word was out about the event, he said.
“Free pizza is usually a pretty good draw. We’ll be doing pizza, tacos, spaghetti. Week after week a different meal.”
All parents and kids under 18 years old in the south Kansas City area are welcome, Thompson said.
KCPD Chaplain Leonard La Guardia helped organize the coordination with local churches.
“There’s a lot of good people out there doing a lot of good things,” La Guardia said. “So, we’re trying to rally them to make this a place where young people can come and build trust with law enforcement.”
Officers who spend time at the Wednesday night PAL sessions will change from week to week. At times officers who are on duty will stop by to see the kids when they have down time.
“Most times when people meet an officer it’s a negative encounter, we’re not coming on your best day, typically,” Sergeant Carter said. “To have something that transcends beyond that where they can come out and see us in a positive light and see that we’re humans too, just like they are, it makes it fun. It can kind of overcome all those barriers that are set.”
Sergeant Carter looked out over the gymnasium full of officers tossing frisbees and playing basketball with kids as described the work that was put into organizing this. He was asked how it felt to see it finally come together and take place.
“It’s great,” Carter said, “absolutely great.”