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Building a community on the corner

March 20, 2014

by Jessica LePore

Changing their community one child at a time, the Albany Police Athletic League has been a resource for kids who are struggling with their environment. Sergeant Leonard Ricchiuti, the executive director of PAL, said the program started with youth in the neighborhood having nothing to do.

After-school coordinator Chelsea Zellar and student Quavier Timmons smiling together/Jessica LePore

After-school coordinator Chelsea Zellar and student Quavier Timmons smiling together/Jessica LePore

“It is a juvenile crime prevention program, bringing kids and cops together through a lot of different types of events,” said Ricchiuti.

PAL started originally with only four events every year and was molded from a group of community leaders who saw a good opportunity in the making. There were a lot of questions in everyone’s head about funding and how the staffing was going to workout when first starting PAL.

“Primarily the four events every year, would be an all day event and on school holidays,” said Ricchiuti.

PAL started out with children from grades 5 through 8 and it has evolved into serving kids pre-k through college. Nearly 40 years later, there is an after school program, a youth leadership council for high school kids, and exploration programs in law enforcement. Ricchiuti said that there are new ideas for programs coming in all the time.

“The best way to come up with programs for the kids is simply asking what they like and want to do. A couple of kids are interested in doing a soap box derby, so we are trying to find an officer that can help us out,” Ricchiuti said.

PAL is such a success because it is not bogged down by salaries and operation is lean. Ricchiuti said they have tens of thousands of volunteer hours and that is why they are able to be where they are today.

“We don’t have the luxury of saying let’s go out and buy whatever we want, but we take all of the time to spend with the kids, too much time, wait, is there such a thing?” Ricchiuti said.

The children’s quilt made at the program/Jessica LePore

The children’s quilt made at the program/Jessica LePore

About 600 kids participate in the program each week and come primarily from Delaware Community School, Albany School of Humanities, Pine Hills Elementary, New Scotland  Elementary and Thomas O’Brien Elementary. Annually, some  2,500 to 2,800 hundred kids show up. Ricchiuti said that one of the best situations to see is a child growing up with PAL and being able to share their experiences with kids who join the program after them.

The program offers 33 scholarship awards for college and almost every child takes advantage of the opportunity.

“The scholarship gives the children something to look forward to, it’s great to be able to see them go full circle and become successful,” Ricchiuti said.

One woman who was in the PAL program as a child, Chelsea Zellar, is now the after-school coordinator. Zellar is a part-time employee during the school year and is now attending UAlbany. She began working for as part of Albany’s Summer  Youth Employment Training Program and was re-employed following that.

“PAL is an organization for kids that has many programs that will benefit and lead them in the right paths of their lives. We help them with their homework, do activities in the gym and we are able to see them grow, which definitely makes us feel great,” Zellar said.

Ricchiuti said that there are five full time staff employees. One of the full-time staff employees since 2005 is the office manager, Sherry Rose.

“I believe in the commitment PAL makes to the children of our community, and I share the enthusiasm of this organization,” Rose said.

Executive Director Leonard Ricchiuti holding up the basketball team’s jersey/Jessica LePore

Executive Director Leonard Ricchiuti holding up the basketball team’s jersey/Jessica LePore

The facility has undergone major construction to accommodate the activities they want to include in the program. More construction happening is scheduled in the upcoming months, and PAL hopes to create a dance studio, to offer more of a variety to the children.

Every child gets a say on what they want to do while in the program .

“I like to do homework and activities here and I like to get help a lot,” said Quavier Timmons, 7, a regular participant in the after school program.  -30-


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