Disrupting Patterns of Violence
Firearm violence has had a substantial impact on children living in cities across the United States. Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Maureen McTamney, believes after-school programs can be significant disruptors to gun violence. One such program is the Philadelphia Police Athletic League. Philadelphia PAL has served youth in the city for 76 years, offering them a safe-haven from violence and programs to support their growth and development.
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After-School Programs Fill Gaps in Education
According to an article in the Pennsylvania Capital Star, the dropout rate of children in Philadelphia schools in 2020-21 was 14 percent. A separate study, done by University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, concluded that children who lack education or access to adequate schooling and after-school programs in safe environments are more likely to commit violent crimes.
There are many factors that lead to a lack of education or an individual’s lack of desire to receive one. For example, a lack of funding hampers efforts to provide children with adequate elementary and secondary school education. Another is the discriminatory housing policies that are in place in cities like Philadelphia.
A driver for these discriminatory practices is racism and the generations-long systemic inequality toward people of color. According to a report done by www.PolicyLink.org, with roughly one in four residents earning below the federal poverty level, Black residents are twice as likely to be living in poverty, and Black workers are three times as likely to be unemployed as their White counterparts.
Diminished economic opportunities, socially disorganized neighborhoods, high levels of family disruption and separation are just a few examples of stressors that contribute to the increased likelihood of an individual committing a violent crime.
However, after-school programs such as the Police Athletic League create an intellectually stimulating environment while simultaneously supporting young teens as they navigate these stressors. PAL provides teens with extra help on their homework, fosters interaction with their peers, and facilitates activities that create a positive space for them to develop and prosper.
According to www.ncsl.org/ after-school programs like the one PAL provides to teens offer academic and enrichment activities in the hours that follow the school day. These programs can serve children of all ages and include academic support, workforce development opportunities, mentoring relationships, and more. These skills are vital for a young person’s success not only for their future in a potential job search but for their development as human beings.
An average adolescent spends nearly 20 percent of their waking hours in school. That means that more than eighty percent of their time is spent outside of school doing other activities. The concept of after-school programs, especially in the city and low-wealth neighborhoods, is so that these young children and teens have somewhere safe to be if their parent(s) or guardian(s) are not available to watch them or take care of them.
The Philadelphia Police Athletic League, or Philly PAL, “is a youth development organization offering educational, athletic, recreational, character-building, and cultural programs to Philadelphia’s youth, ages 6-18. All PAL programs are fun, safe, and FREE. PAL programming fills the dangerous void for Philadelphia kids during after-school and summertime hours by providing constructive activities and supervision.”
Established in 1947, the Police Athletic League has become one of the largest after-school programs that assist youth in paving the way for a more successful future. The Philadelphia Police Athletic League serves communities with the highest rate of crime across the entire city. Philly PAL operates through fifteen facilities in various neighborhoods throughout the city of Philadelphia and throughout those fifteen facilities, each one focuses on a different aspect of personal, professional and social development.
“We offer athletics such as basketball, wrestling and golf. We also have an academic component where we offer homework clubs, tutoring, mentoring…we are trying to build that person from the ages of 6 up until adulthood and when they age out at 18,” Cpt. Michael O’Donnell, Commanding Officer of the Philadelphia Police Athletic League, said.
The primary focus of these after-school activities is to allow for children to develop the necessary skills and habits to one day attend college or take up a trade, and to eventually be successful in the workplace.
Marcelo Mosquera, an 18-year-old member of the Tacony Police Athletic League credits PAL with teaching him how to be a leader in and around his community.
“Even now through highschool, I am the leader of two clubs at my school, and I am also the captain of my soccer team at The MaST School. So, not only did PAL help me become a better leader, but it has helped me to be a better person overall,” Mosquera said.
According to Mosquera, everyone plays a role when they are a part of PAL.
“I think that PAL gives kids a home and a job, because I know that people who may not have a good life at home can come here and feel like they have purpose or feel important, like an equal to everyone else and not someone who is just thrown under the bus,” he said.
Maureen McTamney, a licensed clinical social worker working in Kensington, one of the most troubled neighborhoods in North Philadelphia, says after-school programs are picking up the slack that underfunded schools do not offer.
“To be able to have a rich variety of activities that are offered in after-school programs that may not be offered at a school would be huge in helping these kids achieve their most optimal outcomes,” McTamney said.
Children attending PAL are in the safety of several trained former or current police officers, so they will constantly be supervised and protected. Another benefit is that PAL does not charge a fee for the children to use their sports equipment, nor do they charge for time on the computers or Wi-Fi.
According to phillypolice.com in 2022 there were a total of 4041 firearm reports resulting in 2253 victims, 504 of those being homicides, throughout the city of Philadelphia. In just the first four months in 2023, there have already been 522 victims of gun violence, already a quarter of the total in 2022. Gun violence not only affects the victim but the family and friends of the victim, as well as the law enforcement officers involved.
“Gun violence has affected many parts of the city. There is almost no part of the city that it is not affecting. It is not only affecting the victim of the gun violence - that person isn’t just a dot on a map - this person behind that is a person. Even if that victim dies, there are people that are surviving, there’s the mothers, the fathers, the grandmothers, grandfathers, friends and family,” O’Donnell said.
“Going through the gun violence that we are experiencing in the city within the last couple years, having homicide rates over 500, it is important for the parents to know that while their child is in the PAL Center that their child is going to be safe and protected,” O’Donnell said.
McTamney emphasizes the hopeful future of the education system and the dire need to invest in more safe after-school programs like PAL.
“We need to invest more in our teachers and education. We need to have more activities like this [after-school programs] in order to really change the trajectory of a lot of kids' lives,” she said.
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The Police Athletic League provides children with free educational, athletic, recreational, character-building, and cultural enrichment activities. The Philadelphia PAL program delivers these opportunities to children who are growing up in a city that is profoundly affected by firearm violence. Commanding Officer of the Philadelphia PAL, Michael O’Donnell, is intent on providing youth in the city with an alternative to that violence, offering them instead a safe haven to learn, grow and have fun.
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