The Logan Police Athletic League (PAL) Center, located at The Holy Trinity Presbyterian Church at 1100 W. Rockland St., is one of the smallest in Philadelphia. Yet there is a gigantic amount of hard work and volunteering that goes into giving the neighborhood kids a place off of the streets.
Sharon Wells has been operating the Logan center for 13 of her 20 years as an officer with the Philadelphia Police Department. While Wells spent her first years working for the 14th District as a community relations officer, getting the job in Logan was not easy.
“I had to keep applying and applying,” she said, “PAL is a special unit; it takes patience, creativity and putting love into the kids.”
In watching Wells interact with the kids, it is clear that she has successfully put that combination to work. The children speak respectfully to her, listen to her instruction, and often give her a smile and a hug along with their hellos and goodbyes.
“The boys mostly come and play basketball,” Wells said as she watched a game of three-on-three from her seat by the small court. “This group will be at it all night.”
One of the boys, Daquan Williams, comes to PAL to play basketball and golf. He has been at Logan center for four years.
“I got involved with PAL because I wanted to feel the experience and be in it,” he said, “and this is a good thing for kids to get involved in.”
Several girls gathered together in a small room outside of Officer Well’s office to talk and play pool. Although the felt on the playing area of the table was torn in several places, someone had mended the tears with clear packing tape. This made playing a game challenging, but not impossible.
“The girls mostly stay in the pool room,” Wells said. “They used to play air hockey a lot until the machine broke.”
On a part of the court away from the boys, a girl practiced taking shots for several minutes. She then approached Wells and stood in front of her with a smile on her face.
“Did you see that? Six in a row Officer Wells!” she said.
“Very good job. You keep practicing Saprina,” Wells responded.
John Saunders, 50, has been volunteering with the athletic league for 20 years. He spoke about the changes he sees in the attitudes when the kids come off of the street and through the door at Logan.
“You have to know how to talk to them,” he said. “I tell them ‘You have to give respect to Officer Wells and I or you can’t come back.’”
Saunders, who lives in Logan, first became involved when he came to watch his youngest son play basketball. He has since volunteered as a coach and referee for the basketball, flag football and soccer leagues. In addition to the Logan site, Saunders has also given his time to police athletic centers in South and Northeast Philadelphia. When the league schedules begin to pick up at playoff times, he finds himself at a PAL center up to four days a week or more. It takes up a lot of his time, but Saunders does not seem to mind.
“I’ll still come around until my legs can’t take it anymore,” he said.
Back on the basketball court, Officer Wells and some of the girls had cleared a space for double-dutch. Wells started by turning rope for the girls and encouraging the onlookers to join in. Soon after this she skillfully jumped into the center herself, much to the amusement of everyone around her.
In addition to athletics, PAL draws in kids who become involved with other types of youth programs.
Among these is the “Positive Images” program, designed to build self-esteem and self-confidence in young girls. Officer Wells, in adding her own creative vision to the program, decided that she would hold a prom for the girls at the Logan center.
“I told them that they had to dress appropriately,” she said as she showed the photographs of the sharp dressed girls with their dates. “No jeans or sneakers.”
Not only did Officer Wells and her daughter prepare food for the event and take time to decorate the church’s banquet hall, but she also had a professional photographer come and take pictures of the kids.
“Wouldn’t you know that some of them showed up in a limo!” she added.
Another popular program is the PAL Computer Program. The Logan Computer Club, located on the second floor of Holy Trinity, is a quiet escape from the loud chatting and squeaking sneakers of the basketball court.
Computer Club volunteers Robin Widener and Dawn Miller are neighborhood mothers who each have children involved in the athletic league.
Widener, 40, is a Logan resident who became involved with PAL last November. She was inspired to help PAL because her daughter, Shanice, has been volunteering there for two years.
As she moved around the room, Widener showed the kids how to save their work to their portable thumb drives.
“I wanted a new experience,” she said. “This is a place where I can help the children and they can be free.”
Miller, 41, of Olney, has been volunteering for 11 years. She first got her start with the homework club and now uses her knowledge of computers to keep the machines running for the kids. As she sorted through the stack of replacement parts she noticed an outdated keyboard. She held up the mismatched cord and laughed.
“The young ones come to play computer games,” she said as she continued her search. “The older kids use the Internet or work on projects.”
The current club project is to construct a brochure for a travel agency using a Microsoft PowerPoint slideshow presentation. The presentations will then be entered into citywide competition where the first place prize is a new computer.
One of the kids, Joshua Warner of Olney, was busy putting the finishing touches on his slideshow.
“I’m doing a presentation about Dorney Park,” he said.
When asked about what he would say to get other kids to participate in PAL, Joshua did not hesitate to answer: “PAL’s the best!”