Police Athletic League of Philadelphia last Wednesday held its fourth annual Positive Images Youth Summit at the 26th District PAL, and while it was a fun evening for nearly 100 young girls, the topics presented were pretty serious.
Special Victims Detective Kathryn Gordon and Brenda Phillips, founder of nonprofit WeCare, spoke to girls ranging in age from 8 to 18 representing 19 PAL centers about social media and sex trafficking.
“Be aware of who you’re talking to and make good decisions,” Gordon said. “You never know who is watching you on social media.”
She encouraged the adolescents to seek out the directors at their PAL centers if they saw signs of possible kidnapping or sex trafficking.
“PAL officers are an ally if you see something suspicious,” Gordon added. “Don’t think it can’t happen to you or someone you love.”
All girls received a word search puzzle and pamphlet providing information on how to recognize victims of human trafficking.
Police Officer Francine Whitfield is one of the directors at the 26th District PAL.
“This message is absolutely important with social media and these girls thinking they need to look a certain way,” she said. “Girls at this age really need that positive message.”
Phillips used a creative approach to reach the girls, telling her story and the collective story of females who have experienced abuse or an adverse childhood event through spoken word poetry.
Through rhyme and rhythm, Phillips drove home an important message that girls “can be an inspiration, unstoppable and unforgettable.”
“Be your own canvas, don’t let this world cover you with darkness,” she said. “I write for Super Woman because that’s who we are, right?”
The girls were then given a canvas of their own: a plain white T-shirt and markers to create “something you can feel proud to wear.”
Alani Torrey, 10, participates in the Positive Images program at the 26th District PAL, Memphis and Tucker streets.
“The program is very cool. You get to try new things you may have never done before,” she said. “And, they teach you to always believe in yourself and that you can do anything you try.”
Alani used stencils to write, “Show Your Color,” on her T-shirt.
“To me, it means, show your real personality and don’t doubt yourself,” she said.
Julia Beisel, 16, has participated in the Rizzo PAL Positive Images program in Port Richmond for six years.
“It has been absolutely amazing. The girls are great and we always focus on something positive for mind, body and spirit,” she said in between designing her T-shirt. “They bring in a lot of role models and it’s all about positivity. There’s positivity in everything we do.”
Police Officer Ernie Rehr is the director of Rizzo PAL and has been involved with the Positive Images program since it started at his center in 2001.
“Each session, we focus on something related to mind, body and spirit,” he said. “We show the girls they can be anything they want to be. By mentoring them over several years, we try to have a positive effect on these young girls’ lives.”
Girls are exposed to a wide range of topics and projects from park clean-ups to scrapbooking, to self-defense classes, to collecting supplies for soldiers, to CPR skills.
Guest speakers often visit girls in the program. At Rizzo PAL, Rehr tries to bring in females in every facet of life from former District Attorney Lynne Abraham to the Philadelphia Fury, to community activist and former director of park stewardship at the city Department of Parks and Recreation, Patty-Pat Kozlowski.
“It’s really a community giveback,” Rehr said. “And, it’s an eye-opener for the girls. We’ve marched in parades, participated in coin drops, and donated to the Police Survivors Fund. We try to provide an out-of-the-box experience to show them anything is possible.”