PAL returns to the 26th

26th District PAL opens on Tucker Street in former St. Anne School gym

Officers Brad Deeley and Francine Whitfield take a break from fun to snap a quick picture with the first kids registered at the 26th District PAL. MELISSA KOMAR / STAR PHOTO

By Melissa Komar

After more than 30 years, the Police Athletic League of Philadelphia is a presence in the 26th district once again.

Monday, Feb. 12, marked the official opening of the 26th District PAL center in the former St. Anne School gym on the 2300 block of Tucker St.

The doors to the new center officially opened at 3 p.m. and eight children were registered before 3:30 p.m., all of them dribbling a basketball or passing a football on the refurbished basketball court.

The process to bring PAL back to a district that encompasses Fishtown, Kensington and Olde Richmond began almost two years ago.

In June 2016, Connie Galiczynski and Maria Rosario, members of Olde Kensington Senior Housing Associates, presented a $250,000 donation to the PAL, whose mission is to foster positive relationships between police and children, to start a center in the 26th District.

The donation was one of several the nonprofit made to Philadelphia children-centric organizations.

Other recipients include The Bridesburg Boys and Girls Club ($250,000), the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia ($250,000), Shriners Hospital for Children ($250,000) and Big Brothers, Big Sisters ($200,000).

The donations totaled $1.4 million, the leftover profit from selling Kensington Pavilion, 103 HUD housing units for seniors at Third and Thompson streets, which was constructed in 1984 by Old Kensington Redevelopment Corporation (now Olde Kensington Senior Housing Associates).

The nonprofit donated an additional $100,000 to PAL prior to its opening.

The police officers responsible for fostering the positive relationships with children the board members supported are Brad Deeley and Francine Whitfield

Although it’s the first time Deeley and Whitfield will be directors at their own dedicated PAL center, they are not strangers to the community it will serve.

Deeley is a lifelong Fishtown resident.

Prior to being transferred to the 26th District PAL in April, Deeley learned the ropes of centers at the Oxford Circle PAL.

Before being assigned to PAL, Deeley was a patrol officer in the 18th Police District for 12 years.

Whitfield grew up in Kensington in the Visitation Parish and learned how to run a center at Southwest PAL, Lighthouse PAL in West Philly, and Harrowgate PAL.

Before being transferred along with Deeley to the 26th District PAL, Whitfield was a patrol officer for 12 years in the 6th Police District.

Serving as directors at Philadelphia’s newest PAL was a happy homecoming for the duo, and they are not alone.

Attendance coordinator Alicia Dixon attended school at St. Anne.

“A bunch of memories came flooding back as I walked through the doors,” Dixon said. “It’s definitely exciting to see the doors open up where I grew up. It’s great to see all the kids in here playing.”

The kids, along with their parents, were just as excited, the new center filling a void.

Leeann Rose was at the center to register her grandsons, Nicholas Rose-Grantano, 9, and Christopher Rose-Henry, 10.

“They are always in the house and they have ADHD,” she said, “so, finding neighborhood kids for them to play with is hard. This is a safe environment. This is the most activity they’ve done in awhile other than at school.”

Nicholas and Christopher were busy passing a football around with the other kids, including Amanda Rullo’s.

Rullo brought her son, Anthony Lim, 10, and niece, Aubree O’Toole, 10, on opening day.

“There’s nothing else to do around here,” she said. “And, there’s no electronics here. They need to get out because they can’t go out anymore.”

Rose lives on Sepviva Street and Rullo lives on Thompson Street and both pointed out how they have become concerned for their children’s safety with “the homeless people and drug addicts wandering around the neighborhood since the railroad tracks were cleaned up.”

The directors hope the center addresses that issue.

“I’m looking forward to helping out the community and just giving kids a safe and fun place to go,” Deeley said.

In addition to the tradition PAL programs such as soccer and basketball leagues, the 26th District PAL has a room exclusively dedicated to “homework help” from 3 to 5:30 p.m. every weekday for children ages 6 to 12.

From 6 to 8:30 p.m., youth ages 13 to 18 will have access to the center, except when leagues require use of the facility.

Additional programming will include Computer Club, Positive Images, an initiative to promote and cultivate self-esteem and positive attitudes in girls, and Boys to Men, a mentoring initiative for male youth.

The programs, and all future activities at the 26th District PAL center, are geared toward one goal and reflect PAL’s mission: Cops helping kids.

“Even if we help one kid get off the street, that’s our goal,” Whitfield said.

Registration for the 26th District PAL, Memphis and Tucker streets, is now open. Operating hours are Monday through Friday, 3 to 8:30 p.m. For more details, call 215–291–9000 Ext. 321, or email officer Brad Deeley at bdeeley@phillypal.org or officer Francine Whitfield at fwhitfield@phillypal.org or visit phillypal.org/centers/26th-pal/