A PAL-pable difference

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Many local leaders had a say in taking the Grays Ferry PAL Center from conception to completion.

Photo by Mark Carosiello

For far too long, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here,” which Dante Alighieri used in “The Divine Comedy” as the inscription for the gates of hell, has seemed an applicable warning to those residing in and venturing to Grays Ferry. Crime, addiction, and poverty have often threatened to throw the proud neighborhood into perpetual upheaval, especially with respect to the lives of its children. On Friday, though, hopeful helpers looked to counter the conundrums by opening the Grays Ferry PAL Center at 3225 Reed St.

“Our children need guidance and role models,” Mayor Jim Kenney said at the evening ceremony that marked the space as the 18th Police Athletic League location in the city. “A place like this will give them those and will make us all feel better as people and protectors of their future.”

With more than 100 children gathered before them, the South Philly product and peers promoted the benefits of the partnership between the Police Athletic League and the Salvation Army Greater Philadelphia. Already the overseer of the Grays Ferry Outreach Center within the building, the latter organization loves making the downtrodden turf a place when one should come to discard fear instead of hope.

“We saw the potential here and thought everything was ideal to have a presence in the community,” Maj. Phillip Ferreira, the Greater Philadelphia Director of Operations of the outreach center said of strengthening a stretch of South Philly that needs ample outlets for youths to feel focused and ambitious. “The end result is what I hope is going to be a model location.”

The opening of the impressive space, including the gymnasium where dignitaries and community members fraternized, signals the end of PAL’s two-year absence from the neighborhood and gives Grays Ferry trustworthy allies in reducing regrets and remorse.

“It’s a shame that some people just don’t care anymore about themselves or others,” Bernard Hall said just before the ceremony as his daughter, Annette, feasted on a complementary hamburger. “I’m from the old school because I believe that we need to modify our own behavior and shouldn’t rely on people to be saviors, but every bit of help helps, so I’ll be eager to enroll her in the program mainly because I think she can be a role model for other kids, the ones who feel hopeless.”

The resident of the 3200 block of Dickinson Street and his nine-year-old descendant, who would join more than 200 children as a registrant, delighted in hearing all of the speakers, with state Rep. Jordan Harris drawing their most robust applause.

“Please use this PAL center,” Harris, who represents the 186th District, said of the destination that unofficially opened last month and that has joined its predecessors in offering sports, including basketball, soccer, and tennis; educational opportunities, such as chess, homework and computer clubs, and mentoring programs; and field trips. “This location, and I cannot stress this enough, is going to be responsible for saving lives.”

HARRIS ADDED THAT a space that could prove a boon for the troubled area had always come up in meetings with residents. That desire for diligent means to inspire dreams met the ears of then-councilman and mayoral candidate Kenney last year when he attended a barbecue at Stinger Square Playground.

“This is definitely a promise that needed keeping,” he said of having vowed to assist locals. “This is a huge step in helping our children because we want for you to reach your potential. We love and care about you so much.”

“This is a long time coming,” 2nd District Councilman Kenyatta Johnson said to cheers, taking time to commend community leaders, including South Philly Review Difference Makers Ella Best and Anton Moore, of Don’t Shoot…I Want a Future and Unity in the Community, respectively, for bringing the plan to fruition. “The time is now to make a lasting difference in the lives of our children.”

In looking to lead youths to make better decisions and to establish stronger relationships with contemporaries, family members, and educators, the site, which is open from 3 to 9 p.m. on weekdays, will call upon Frank Holmes to be a beacon for their maturation.

“I’m happy to be back in this area,” the Philadelphia Police Department officer said in offering reflections on his time as a patrol officer in the 17th District. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but I know these children want to make something of themselves, and we all want that for them, too.”

More than 18,000 youngsters participated in PAL programs last year, so the new spot’s leadership team is eager to swell that total and finds itself thankful for children like Raymir Richburg.

“I feel more disciplined because of my time here,” the 10-year-old resident of the 3100 block of Moore Street said, noting how basketball and flag football have honed his athletic identity and how homework club has fostered his academic curiosity. “It’s cool to have people who want to help us all the time.”

The student at the James Alcorn School comes to the Grays Ferry PAL as a part of a group, proving a perfect poster child for the claim that there is strength in numbers. Regardless of whether he continues to come with company or whether any other local boy or girl makes individual or group stops, Ferreira knows their time at the destination will always serve as an appealing alternative to the appalling choices that problems in the home, spats with their friends or enemies, or sadness over the direction of their lives could lead them to make.

“This is to be a haven,” he said, noting that adults can partake in the center’s offerings through congregation meetings and Bible study options. “We are striving to let kids know that when they need help, they will always be able to find it here.” SPR

Call 215–291–9000, or visit phillypal.org/join-us/enroll.

Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at jmyers@southphillyreview.com.