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Jefferson County now has a newly formed and accredited chapter of the Police Athletic League (PAL), a national organization whose aims include coaching young people in sports, strengthening police-community relations, and keeping youths off illegal drugs.
Attorney Charles Collins, of Collins Law Firm in Monticello, is heading the local effort in conjunction with Monticello Police Chief Fred Mosley.
“PAL is big in South Florida,” Collins said last week. “The goal is to target 6 to 12 year old at-risk kids and provide them with after-school activities. Since the Boys and Girls Club shut down here, there's been a need for something like this. One of the things we're trying to do is develop a boxing program.”
He said one of the chapter's several goals is to lease the old high school gym on Water Street from the Jefferson County School District. His group, he said, plans to approach the School Board with the proposal in the coming weeks.
A second goal, he said, is to seek a federal grant.
“There is federal funding that is given to PAL chapters,” Collins said. “Up to $100,000 grants are available, but we would have to raise $10,000 at the local level.”
Collins said Clerk of Court Kirk Reams is researching the particulars of the grant application process. He said he and others in the community will solicit donations to raise the necessary $10,000.
Meanwhile, an effort is underway to create a temporary gym in town. That effort, Collins said, entailed assembling a boxing ring in the storefront on North Jefferson Street that formerly housed Robinson Gun-works.
“We hope to have it up by next week,” Collins said of the ring. “It's something we've been wanting to do for long time.”
Boxing and law runs in the Collins' family. His father, Attorney David Collins has boxed on and off since 1973 and ran a boxing program here in the early 2000s, called The Cherry Street Gym. One of the older Collins' trainees, in fact, won the 2007 state championship.
The younger Collins said he hopes to involve the Sheriff's Department in the current PAL effort, believing that the more community involvement, the more likely that the program will succeed.
“Before, it was just us and a couple of other people,” he said of the earlier boxing program. “There wasn't a lot of other support. We're hoping to get more support and interest this time. It's something that we need in the community.
PAL programs, which many police departments across the country sponsor, sometimes call themselves Police Activities League, because of their many programs focusing on youth enrichment and education and youth leadership, as opposed to simply sports. There now also exit SALs, or Sheriff Activities Leagues, sponsored by sheriffs departments.
The idea behind PALs and SALS is that participants in these organizations' activities are less likely to engage in crime and more likely to form positive bonds with law enforcement and discourage others from committing or covering up criminal activity.
Studies have shown that youths who engage and interact with law-enforcement officers on the ball field, gym or classroom are more likely to respect the laws that police enforce. Such respect, the studies find, benefit not only the youths, but also police departments, neighborhoods and businesses.