Baltimore County officials opened yesterday a first-of-its-kind Police Athletic League Center in Essex that also will provide health care for area children.
The $1.2 million PAL center at 1498 Homberg Ave. will serve about 1,000 area children: 530 from Mars Estates Elementary School next door and 470 from Deep Creek Elementary.
The health center will be open during the day and the PAL center after school. County Department of Health officials said the health center was needed in an area where many children show up sick for school, and many families don't qualify for medical insurance.
"The bottom line is that we want children to succeed," said Dr. Eric Fine, the departmen's director of adolescent and reproductive health. "If they're well and able to stay in school, they can be successful."
All county schools have a nurse. But the county has 14 schools that also have nurse practitioners, who can administer medicines and treat children. The new health center will have a nurse practitioner for the children.
"The [school] nurse cannot do everything," Fine said. "With the wellness center, we can make a diagnosis and treat them right at the wellness center."
County police said they jumped at the chance to work with the Health Department.
"We think it's a great collaboration," said Capt. Thomas Busch.
Countywide, the Police Department's nine PAL centers work with about 5,000 children, providing recreation and guidance from officers.
About 175 children, parents and community activists showed up yesterday to view the new center. The Mars Estates Glee Club, band and stompers performed for the ceremony.
Besides the Health Department, the new PAL center has partnerships with several other agencies. The YMCA will hold a monthly family night. Epoch Counseling Center will provide family and children counseling, and Franklin Square Hospital Center will offer community outreach to children on substance abuse.
The new PAL center replaces the Riverwood PAL center.
Those who attended the opening welcomed the new site.
"It's going to be an asset to the community," said Sue Riley, president of the Mars Estates Parent-Teacher Association. "It's going to take some getting used to after having nothing at all."