New PAL hoping to change lives in West Baltimore

Posted at 5:26 PM, Mar 23, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-23 17:26:39-04

Once a week Rayshawn Montgomery and about 30 other kids from West Baltmore attend the newly opened Police Athletic League (PAL) program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore's Community Engagement Center. PAL is a national program that works to build relationships among kids, cops and the community with the goal of preventing juvenile crime.

"I like coming here to get me off the streets. People on the streets, that's not here, they're probably going to be dead or locked up somewhere," said 11-year-old Montgomery. "The people that is here, they're doing something positive. That means they're not on the streets doing something that's wrong."

"We want them to learn they can trust us," said Cpl. Hazel Lewis of the UMD, Baltimore Police. "They can talk to us. We're regular people. With or without the uniform we're still regular people."

The Police Athletic League isn't just about sports. It's evolved over the years. The 'A' in PAL also stands for activities, broadening the ways the program impacts our youth. The UMD, Baltimore chapter is one of only two PALs in the country located on college campuses.

"This is a way for us to really use the strengths of the university in science and technology and engineering and math, and exposing the children to all of the resources that are right across the street and helping them see the kinds of possibilities of careers in medicine or law or the helping professions," said UMD, Baltimore Program Coordinator Kelly Quinn.

In 2009 PAL programs were phased out in the city. UMD, Baltimore Philanthropy Officer Kyle Locke helped bring them back over the last couple years.

"These kids come from challenging environments. It's very unfortunate some of the things they have to see on a daily basis. Here we just try to get them away from that," said Locke.

That's just fine for Rayshawn Montgomery and his camera-friendly buddy D'Shawn Thornton. The 10-year-old described what kids on the West side have learned because of the program.

"To have fun. To be smart. To have confidence," he said.

UMD Baltimore received almost $28,800 from the National PAL to launch the program last month. That money plus $10,000 in private funding has it on track to operate through the end of the year.

Follow Shawn Stepner on Twitter @StepnerWMAR and Facebook