Officers give youths time, boost in self-esteem Police athletic centers offer safe place to play, learn

November 24, 1996|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

Twelve-year-old Samuel Watkins used to have a bad attitude, little patience and a hot temper.

That was before he met Baltimore police Officer April Fullwood three months ago at the Police Athletic League center on West Saratoga Street.

"I was disrespectful to my mom and impatient with my little brothers before I met police officers who cared," said Samuel, an eighth-grader at Harlem Park Middle School. "It feels good to know that people -- especially police officers -- take the time to care about us and listen and help us out."

Fullwood added: "He's done a complete [turnaround], and we're real proud," as she patted Samuel on the back.

Watkins and Fullwood were among the estimated 200 youths, police officers, parents and community members who gathered yesterday at the Waverly Police Athletic League center near Ellerslie Avenue and 34th Street to commemorate the success of the 21 PAL centers that offer academic and recreational programs to children. Yesterday's open house included a performance by the Police Youth Choir.

"This offers kids a safe place to go, getting them off the streets and doing something productive like playing a game or doing their homework, instead of sitting idle," said Helene Reid, 31, of Waverly, who has a child in the program. "You see kids who have learned respect, discipline and that police officers are positive role models."

The nonprofit program -- which began last year -- offers after-school tutors and mentors, and athletic leagues, including basketball, soccer and karate, for about 3,000 children ranging in age from 7 to 17. The centers' $250,000 budget comes from city, federal and state grants and private donors, organizers said.

Over the next five years, organizers said they hope to increase the budget for the centers to $20 million and open nine more facilities. They also would like to upgrade equipment and add programs, such as a "Young Gentlemen's Club" to teach young men hygiene and manners.

"If I didn't come here, I'd be sitting at home playing Nintendo, or just hanging out, probably getting into trouble," said Emanuel Walker, 10, who regularly goes to the Arlington center on West Rogers Avenue. "They keep our minds active and help us to learn respect and how to like ourselves.

"Those are things I want to know instead of sitting at home, getting bored."

Pub Date: 11/24/96

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