PAL readies for 26th Police District comeback

PAL set to open doors at St. Anne’s Gym within a month.

PAL impact: Mayor Jim Kenney holds up his PAL football conference card from 1970 in the soon-to-be 26th PAL center.

By Lindsey Nolen

The Police Athletic League of Philadelphia received a $250,000 donation last June from members of Olde Kensington Senior Housing Associates to open a center in the 26th Police District.

Almost a year later, the organization is preparing to open the doors of the center at St. Anne’s Gym, 2328 E. Tucker St., within approximately one month.

Although initially the proposed site for the new PAL center was between St. Anne Elementary School on Tucker Street and First Presbyterian Church on Girard Avenue, after St. Anne’s was chosen, the organization knew the space needed a lot of work to make it usable.

In the beginning of the construction, more than a dozen members of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, District Council 21, gave their time to make all necessary renovations to the gym.

“District Council 21 really set the bar very high for PAL centers and donated their time and services,” PAL Executive Director Ted Qualli said. “At PAL, we’re excited to open this center in a couple weeks, but we’re even more excited at the opportunity to expose our young people to this profession. We represent 18,000 to 19,000 kids across the City of Philadelphia who we hope will consider joining this union and helping us at future PAL centers.”

According to the IUPAT, the improvements made at St. Anne’s included scraping the ceiling of all the loose paint that was hanging down like icicles and spraying a new coat of paint on the ceiling. Next, they repeated the paint scraping process on the gym’s walls.

Before they could apply paint to the walls, to ensure water wouldn’t seep through the cracks in many of the windows, the IUPAT members repaired approximately 20 broken windows out of the 100 total windows of the gym. To do this, they had to cut the windows’ steel grills off, chip out the old windows from the outside, obtain new glass from one of IUPAT’s contractors (paid for by District Council 21), cut the new glass to size and place them within the existing frames. Eventually, they will weld the old grills back on the windows.

Once the windows were replaced and sealed, the laborers painted the gym walls using tan as the primary wall color, and including “PAL Blue” and yellow stripes. When the painting was complete, IUPAT made a few additional wall repairs and swept the gym to complete the project in approximately one month despite working just two days a week.

With only plumbing work left, the restoration of the new PAL gym project is now largely complete. According to PAL Commanding Officer Lt. Evelyn Cintron, to finalize the project, contractors in the next few weeks will build an office in the rear of the gym, and a computer and homework classroom and a game room in the front of the gym, within storage rooms behind the stage.

“As a nonprofit, getting the resources we need is nice,” Cintron said. “Anytime we do anything good for the kids, it’s those smiles that make it worth it. It makes a difference to know that kids are developing relationships with the officers, seeing them as a father or brother figure, and it shows us that we’re making a long-term impact with the program.”

In touching on all the good her organization does, Cintron expressed that one child-officer relationship that has especially resonated with her lately includes that of one of her officers who is working with an autistic child in his center. When this young man first got to the center, he couldn’t sit down for five minutes to complete any task. With the help and guidance of PAL, this child is now able to sit through an entire activity.

“Through anything he does, you can see it in his face that he’s just so in love with PAL,” said Cintron, who has been involved in the Fishtown PAL center project from the beginning.

Having had positive experiences with PAL, Mayor Jim Kenney remembers growing up playing football at PAL, getting weighed in at the PAL center located at Belgrade and Clearfield streets for the 90-lb. team’s season that played at the Edward O’Malley Athletic Association, which was associated with PAL at the time.

“It was my life growing up,” Kenney said. “I played 10 years of football at PAL, then went and played at St. Joe’s Prep. It helped shape my life and gave me friends I still have today, and coaches whose every single name I remember, whether they’re alive or passed on.”

Kenney added he believes the streets are a lot harder today than they were when he was a kid. With a lot more danger and problems, there’s solace in knowing that inside the PAL gym, kids are safe from the negative impact the streets can have on a young person.

Similarly, Father Ed Brady of St. Anne’s Parish notes his appreciation for the gym’s renovations being made for the initiative. He believes this space will not only improve the parish and PAL program, but the entire neighborhood as well.

“This was such a team effort, everyone is behind it because they know it’s going to bring a lot of life back into the neighborhood,” Brady said. “This is for the best, not only for the parish, but for the neighborhood all the way around. It’s mutually beneficial and everybody’s really happy about it.”