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Credit: Idil Demirdag

The Police Athletic League, a nationwide organization with the slogan “Cops helping kids,” opened a PAL center on campus last week with assistance from Penn Police officers.

“It provides a great opportunity for kids to spend time in a positive way,” said Lieutenant Gary Williams, the officer spearheading the center. “I think it allows kids to see that officers are approachable.”

One of the best aspects of the PAL program, Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush said, is how the PAL center can operate as an after-school program for West Philadelphia youth.

“If the parent or parents are working, that’s the beauty of starting at 3 p.m., so the child doesn’t have to go home to an unoccupied house,” said Rush, who is also vice chair of the Philadelphia PAL board.

At the Tucker PAL center, located at 4040 Ludlow St., kids can come after school to do homework or play games and sports.

The center kept the name of a school that existed formerly at that location.

In the past, PAL has held events on campus such as “PAL at the Palestra” and “PAL at the Ice Rink.”

The opening of this center will allow Penn Police and Penn students to interact with the greater West Philadelphia community. Penn Police have dedicated an officer to the PAL program for upwards of 20 years.

“We think it’d be a wonderful experience to get our students — whether athletes, Greeks, any individual students or those who were involved in their hometown — to become involved,” Rush said.

What makes this center unique is the relationship between Penn and the city. A Penn Police officer and a Philadelphia Police officer co-direct the center. It is also convenient for Penn students to volunteer — though they do have to get a quick background check first, as all adult volunteers do.

She described it as a “win-win” situation for Penn students to provide a positive example for the kids who want a better life.

The interaction with the police, Rush said, not only breaks down barriers between kids and cops, but forms personal relationships. “They become their guidance counselor, their friend, their confidant,” she said. The officers “try to steer kids in the right direction.”

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