Officer Frank Rivera spends his afternoons and evenings at the Harrowgate Police Athletic League Center. Located at 851 E. Tioga St. in Harrowgate, the PAL center services the 18-and-under population, many of whom are Latino.
Harrowgate PAL opened last September. Before it opened, Rivera worked in a different PAL center at Fifth and Allegheny streets. In his time there, he met German Sanchez who asked Rivera for help starting an adult male softball league.
Sanchez, now 26 years old, said: “I lived at PAL. This is where I grew up.”
PAL centers are run by Philadelphia police officers. The centers are a safe space for kids to go after school ends each day. Children ages 6-12 are permitted to be at the PAL center from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. From 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., the center opens for children ages 13-18. During their day at PAL, there is homework assistance with a volunteer teacher and recreational time. The officers must have a background in athletics.
Rivera worked in the 25th Police District.
Rivera said: “I’ve seen a lot of kids getting locked up, arrested and getting shot out there. I found out what PAL was about and got into PAL to help the kids.”
PAL centers have zero tolerance for violence and bad behavior. The officers in charge are able to arrest anyone who disturbs the center. They are the authority and enforcement that make the centers run smoothly for the children.
“They feel comfortable,” Rivera said. “They know that we’re here to help them.”
Because the 26 PAL centers provide activities to students under 18, Sanchez, an avid softball and baseball player, looked elsewhere for a league to join once he was no longer eligible to play for PAL. He and his team played in a different softball league, but they weren’t happy with the leadership.
Sanchez asked Rivera for his help, knowing his connections to athletics. They formed a committee and made Rivera the commissioner for the league. Rivera will not have a team in the league, allowing him to stay unbiased.
Rivera said: “Saturdays, for this softball league, I want to give back to the community and I want to help them out. I’m doing it on my own time. I’m just doing it as a volunteer.”
This year the softball league has 12 teams with approximately 15 people per team. Although it had to turn away some teams, Sanchez said he hopes the league will be successful and expand to allow for more participation.
The league is meant to get families involved. Sanchez and Rivera said they hope that children will come out to watch their fathers play. Between players, families and other spectators, Rivera estimates 200 people will attend the opening day ceremony on April 14.
“By these parents playing in our softball league, their kids participate in our programs,” Rivera said.
The league also gives back to the PAL center. At the opening day ceremony, members of the league will present a $1000 check to Harrowgate PAL. The money will be used to maintain facilities, purchase books or snacks and fulfill some of the needs of the center.
“PAL is a free program. No kid pays for anything,” Rivera said. “If you show these kids you care, they’ll come back to you.”
Sanchez is evidence of Rivera’s claim.
“We help them and they help us,” Sanchez said. “They give us a place to play and we give them funding for the kids.”
Harrowgate PAL and other PAL centers rely on donations from their supporters. Teams in the softball league also rely on donations to pay for its needs.
Sanchez said: “Most of the money will come from sponsors. You have the people that just love to help.”
Sanchez estimated the average donation for the league to be up to $500. These donations allow the league to purchase uniforms and to help the PAL center.
Rivera said it is important to show the Latino community around the center that many who have been involved have enjoyed their time at PAL and are now giving back.
“I’ve got a couple of former PAL kids in the police department and the fire department and that makes me feel good,” Rivera said.
Last year, Concilio recognized Rivera for his dedication to community service.
Since September, 500 kids have registered for Harrowgate PAL. Of those 500 kids, approximately 200 are registered for structured programs including soccer, flag football, basketball and boys and girls mentoring.
Rivera said: “This program, PAL, I’ve seen it with my own eyes. It does help keep them off the streets.”
Rivera noted that the time between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. is usually when children are committing crimes. Having the PAL center open during these hours helps decrease the crime rate among children.
PAL centers also need parent support to run successfully.
“We are lacking a little bit in the parent participation and that’s key,” Rivera said. “If you remember what President Obama said, ‘Everything starts at home.’ I’m a true believer in that. ”
Rivera said Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez is very supportive of the PAL center and will be at the opening ceremony for the softball league. She will throw the first ball of the game.
“She wants to bring the neighborhood back,” Rivera said.
Rivera said by maintaining the fields and offering programs, support will grow for Harrowgate PAL.
Rivera said, “We’re actually bringing this neighborhood right back up again.”