Philadelphia Youth Have a "PAL" in The Salvation Army
A bond between two organizations is keeping Philadelphia youth out of the streets and focused on improving their quality of life. But perhaps another bond is giving them the daily drive and inspiration – their relationship with Philadelphia Police Officer Frank Holmes.
“With the generations of kids I raised, I realized that it’s all about the relationship,” said Officer Holmes who oversees the Police Athletic League (PAL) at The Salvation Army Philadelphia Central Corps location. “I raised a lot of kids down here. I really believe in the importance of bridging the gap between the community and police officers.”
Since 2009, Officer Holmes has been a revered staple for PAL, which provides educational, athletic, recreational, character-building and cultural programming to youth who live in under resourced areas and neighborhoods with high levels of crime. A national nonprofit, PAL has 18 sites in Philadelphia alone, including The Salvation Army Philadelphia Central Corps where youth are dual-enrolled.
“Every child who signs up for PAL has signed up for The Salvation Army,” said Captain Peranda Fils-Aime, Corps Officer for The Salvation Army Philadelphia Central Corps.
At The Salvation Army, children ages six through 18 are served by PAL and are involved in Homework Club, recreational activities like basketball, gymnastics and photography, and character-building programs like conflict and resolution drills – all led by Officer Holmes. On a daily average, 50-70 children are served per day at the location, ages six to 12 during the day and ages 12-18 during the night.
But there’s much more to the program than just keeping children involved – it’s also about providing them a safe space. According to the City of Philadelphia, homicide victims under 18 resulting from gun violence have more than doubled since 2015. April Thomas-Jones, Executive Director of PAL in Philadelphia, says that is a reason why the centers in Philadelphia are unique and vital to children’s needs today.
“Every center director is a full-time Philadelphia Police officer, and it is their only post,” says Thomas-Jones. “It helps children feel even more safe. At any point in time, if a child is standing on a corner and feels unsafe, they can walk into a PAL center, we'll put that kid in, and they're a PAL kid, and they stay.”
A Philly native, Thomas-Jones has developed a passion for creating access and equity for youth through her various leadership roles for local organizations, including PAL which has existed in Philadelphia for 76 years.
“I love working in the youth space, seeing what can be possible, and seeing that light turn on for kids,” she says.
Thomas-Jones and Officer Holmes say the partnership with a like-minded organization such as The Salvation Army makes sense.
“The Salvation Army serves the underprivileged youth and people in the community,” said Officer Holmes. “The places we go to and serve are the same areas that The Salvation Army would serve. The partnership with PAL was meant to be. We’re both helping the community out.”
“When I first met Officer Holmes, he was very welcoming, very patient, very helpful,” said Captain Fils-Aime. “He makes a difference in a lot of teen’s life. He’s well known in the community, and PAL is very official for this community. The Salvation Army is proud to partner with PAL.”
The Salvation Army Philadelphia West Corps is also a home of PAL. To learn more about and support The Salvation Army Greater Philadelphia’s programs for youth, visit www.saphilly.org.