Police Activities League Guides Youth Down Right Path

Deon Brown and Kimberly Sanchez exude confidence as they sit inside a small room at the Salvation Army’s Pasadena Tabernacle on a recent Friday afternoon. At this time of the week, the facility is home to the Pasadena Police Activities League, an enrichment program that not only provides a safe haven for local students after school and during the summer, but also helps police officers build positive relationships with youth in the communities they serve. Both 17 years old, Brown and Sanchez realize that their life trajectories could have gone in very different directions if it weren’t for PAL.
As a young student at Burbank Elementary School in Altadena, Brown and his self-proclaimed “flamboyant personality” were the victims of bullying. When Brown turned 10, his parents decided to enroll him in PAL after other after-school programs didn’t provide the type of focus that he was seeking at the time.
“Going into my middle-school years, it was so important for me because that’s when it starts cutting down to who I really was and defining who I am,” said Brown.
Sanchez took a slightly different route through PAL’s front doors. Growing up, she was very quiet and insecure. A toxic familial relationship with her troubled cousin, Sergio, also soured those early years.
“My mom thought maybe bringing me to PAL would help me and also help him,” said Sanchez, a Marshall Fundamental School junior who is a few years older than her cousin.
Nearly six years later, Brown and Sanchez have firmly entrenched themselves within the supportive community that is PAL, discovering untapped passions while thriving under the protective eye of police officers and youth advisors. This connection to the Pasadena Police Department forms the crux of the organization, which exists to prevent at-risk youth from making poor choices during the often-unsupervised hours between school and home. Homework assistance and counseling are just some of the ways that PAL steers area youth down the right path.
“My public speaking skills have improved a lot,” said Sanchez. “My communication skills have improved and I’m able to speak more comfortably about myself and also about other things that I like.”
Sanchez experienced much of this personal growth through an opportunity that PAL has presented for the past two years: participation in the YMCA’s statewide Youth in Government program. Through Model Legislature & Court, Model United Nations and even a trip to the state capitol in Sacramento to debate other delegations on specific issues, the Youth in Government program allows PAL students to discover first-hand the intricacies of the legislative process and international diplomacy. As part of the program, Sanchez received the opportunity to draft a bill implementing sexual assault crisis centers on college campuses.
“She was a shy little girl and now she’s very outspoken,” said Pasadena Police officer and PAL Coordinator Eddie Bondarczuk. “Her involvement with Youth in Government and politics… I don’t think she even realized that she would be doing that at her age now. It changes perspectives. It gives kids the opportunity to do something they never thought they would find themselves doing.”
Brown has also participated in Youth in Government, along with other PAL enrichment activities such as boxing, cooking and robotics. But as he prepares to graduate from PAL, which accepts students ages 9-17 from primarily low-income families, the Blair High School junior believes that one of the most important aspects of the program is how it has begun to shift the narrative surrounding police.
A few months ago, officers descended upon a school-wide assembly at Blair after several students ingested drugs and ended up in the hospital.
“Because of the racial tensions going on nowadays and what’s present in the news, you had lots of animosity towards the [officers] who were there,” recalled Brown, who recognized many of them as mentors from PAL.
When Brown missed the pickup van scheduled to transport him from Blair to PAL after school that day, a familiar officer offered to give Brown a ride there in his police cruiser. Many of Brown’s classmates witnessed the exchange and immediately questioned his intimate relationship with the police. But their skepticism didn’t faze Brown, who had already spent years developing a healthy rapport with local officers through PAL.
“That was just such a profound moment when he gave me that ride,” said Brown. “I feel like PAL is closing that gap. It’s delineating what the new norm is now. To come to a program where that connection is so vital, it’s so important.”
Bondarczuk, who serves as a Safe Schools Team member in the department’s Field Operations Division, agrees.
“It’s incredible because, again, you see these kids at school,” said Bondarczuk. “A lot of them are really friendly and want to talk to police officers. Seeing what piques their interest and having that bond with them, it’s almost like having a sibling. It’s amazing, just the transformation you see and the fact that these kids stay on a great path.”
Brown and Sanchez both have aspirations to pursue political science in college, passions born from participation in PAL. While Sanchez seeks to establish a club similar to Youth in Government at Marshall, Columbia University has already reached out to Brown. These results are just what Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez wants to hear as the organization approaches 20 years in his city.
“It’s an investment in our future,” he said. “These are all young, viable, thriving people. It makes me very proud knowing that it’s really kind of a balance. It offers a safe haven for the children where they can really grow and thrive.”

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