City Hall celebrates its 49th annual PAL Day

PAL student Saanai Reavis-Legett, of South Philly’s Ford PAL Center, teamed up with Mayor Kenney.

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Saanai Reavis-Legett of South Philly’s Ford PAL Center gives a speech at the PAL Day event at City Hall as Mayor Jim Kenney looks on.

Kids from every Philadelphia’s Police Athletic League center in Philadelphia were represented at the 49th annual PAL Day at City Hall last Wednesday morning.

The PAL students joined Mayor Jim Kenney, City Representative Sheila Hess, PAL representatives and public officials in a morning ceremony in the Mayor’s Reception Room to launch a day of career exploration. Feb. 13 officially is PAL Day at City Hall, which was declared in a mayoral proclamation.

Kenney said the city is proud to invest time in mentoring programs that engage, empower and educate youth.

“The direction that PAL provides is beneficial to a child’s development as a person and a professional,” Kenney said. “While growing up in South Philly, my participation in organized PAL programs as a kid was a truly enriching experience. Spending quality time with a public official can make a world of difference to help a student succeed later in life. Programs like PAL Day at City Hall serve as a guiding light and constructive opportunity for our young people to learn and grow.”

“This is all about cops helping kids,” said Hess, who’s from Grays Ferry. “[PAL centers are] located in vulnerable neighborhoods, and now these kids can now go to a place that’s safe. They get to learn, an education. It’s not just all athletics but it’s about team building, it’s about life-coaching as well and it’s all staffed by Philadelphia police officers who are assigned to a PAL center.”

Mayor Kenney greeted and addressed the students representing all 19 of the Philadelphia’s Police Athletic League facilities citywide. He commended the PAL kids — all high school students — on their good deeds and accomplishments in academics, extracurricular activities and in the community.

Saanai Reavis-Legett of South Philly’s Ford PAL Center chills with Mayor Jim Kenney, who she’s shadowing for the day.

Kenney reflected fondly about the positive influence of police officers on his early life, but acknowledged that it’s not always the case for all families.

“When I was a kid growing up, my parents would always tell me, ‘If you have difficulty out on the street or you didn’t know where you were going or you were lost or you felt unsafe, find a police officer. A police officer will get you to where you need to be,’ ” Kenney said. “Over the years, that isn’t always the case with every family in our city. I think what PAL does is it bridges those gaps and connects police to our kids and to our families and to our neighborhoods. My aspirational goal is that every parent would tell their kid that if you have a problem or need some help, find a police officer, they’ll help you. That’s what we strive for every single day.”

PAL student Saanai Reavis-Legett, of South Philly’s Ford PAL Center, teamed up with Kenney. As an honorary mayor, Reavis-Legett represented the PAL student population and presented remarks encouraging the city and other organizations to continue its mentoring programs. Reavis-Legett is a senior at Philadelphia Electrical and Technology Charter High School in Center City. She is a PAL veteran of eight years, participating in volunteer community-service activities such as an aide at pre-school summer camps and as a tutor for younger students.  A member of the National Honor Society, she plans to attend college to pursue a career in biology. Kenney posed for photos with the students and their assigned public officials — along with representatives of PAL, the government and the event sponsor. The adult mentors were from the city, City Council and the judicial system.

The mayor and other officials emphasized the profound and positive impact that PAL has made through the mentoring of youths by Philadelphia police officers and volunteers.

PAL Center youths participated in an oath of office, recognizing and appointing them as “Honorary Public Officials” for PAL Day. Common Pleas Court Judge Idee C. Fox administered the oath as part of the PAL Day at City Hall official swearing-in ceremony.

The students later took part in a speed-mentoring activity to mingle and network with the public officials, quizzing them briefly on the scope of their positions. The session included circulating to various tables and exchanging business cards. Government officials encouraged the PAL participants to get involved in the professional world through internships such as those offered by the Mayor’s Office of Education and other career-assistance programs and opportunities.

“I think it’s a great place for the youth and young adults, as you see here high school students, to have a safe place where they can learn about community service, where they can find resources and where they can not be on the streets,” said Anne Kelly, Councilman Mark Squilla’s chief of staff.

Following the kickoff, the students and public officials enjoyed a networking lunch. Afterward, the honorary public officials visited various workplaces to learn about the daily operations of local government. The PAL participants spent part of the afternoon experiencing the inner workings of civil service, with the guidance of the officials from city departments/offices, the judicial system and City Council. To close the day, PAL students had an option to learn how they can get more involved in government service through a panel discussion with Jovida Hill, executive director of the Women’s Commission; Ricardo Calderon, director of Office of Youth Engagement; and Jeanette Bavwidinsi, volunteer engagement coordinator in the Mayor’s Office of Civic Engagement & Volunteer Service.