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Police Activities League Celebrates 20 Years

Nonprofit Connects Cops, Kids, and Community

Board President John Van Donge, Executive Director Michelle Hillman Meyering, and S.B. PAL founder Kent Wojciechoski

On April 12 at the Biltmore’s Coral Casino, more than 200 supporters of PAL, the Santa Barbara chapter of the Police Activities League, celebrated PAL’s 20th anniversary of “Connecting Cops, Kids, and Community.” The event netted about $120,000 in much-needed funds. PAL is a nonprofit supported by the community, including those in law enforcement, that provides a range of programming for teens, all free of charge.

The delightful evening began in the warm sunshine on the Ballroom Terrace, where PAL’s talented band performed. Guests included a large contingent from the S.B. Police Department (SBPD), including Chief Lori Luhnow, the S.B. Fire Department, including new Chief Eric Nickel, District Attorney Joyce Dudley, the business community, and individuals who ardently support this unique and very worthy organization.

In the Ballroom, Andrew Firestone welcomed the guests and shared how PAL has officers proactively engaging with the community, instead of being in their normal reactionary mode, and how the officers’ participation makes PAL an incredible resource for the community. Luhnow related how PAL gives her department the opportunity to form relationships with youth, to inspire them, and to develop their trust, which she deemed “everything in today’s society.” She noted how difficult the twin disasters were last year on nonprofits’ revenue and thanked guests for their much-needed support.

The founder of PAL’s Santa Barbara chapter, Kent Wojciechoski, presented an award to S.B. Police Officer Bryan Kerr, whom he praised as one of the best human beings and someone who has given the last 10-12 years of his life to PAL. Wojciechoski related how PAL recruited Kerr from S.B. Parks & Recreation to be its program coordinator, later encouraged Kerr to become a police officer, and then welcomed him back as the SBPD’s PAL officer, a post he has held for the last four years.

Board President John Van Donge shared how every day, 40-45 students come to PAL’s drop-in, voluntary center because they want to better their lives. According to Van Donge, PAL helps economically disadvantaged kids and bridges the gap between law enforcement and youth, creating a safe place where they can be themselves.

PAL alumnus Emily Beasley, now a student at Cal State University at Monterey Bay, passionately shared how PAL kept her and other students safe and focused on their goals and pointed out to students their potential. She shared fond memories, including how playing flag football with officers made her feel happy and safe. Beasley thanked the PAL team for changing the lives of so many kids from low-income families who don’t know whom otherwise to turn to.

At its Twelve35 Teen Center (1235 Chapala St.), PAL provides tutoring and various programming, including individual music instruction. PAL’s Explorer Post, run by the SBPD, offers career orientation experiences, leadership training, and community service activities to youth ages 14-21 with an interest in a law enforcement career. Currently, 20 students are enrolled.

Through PAL’s Youth Leadership Council, high school students engage in character-building activities, leadership training, and community service projects. PAL’s new DRAGG (Drag Racing Against Gangs and Graffiti) program is an after-school, hands-on automotive program in which students are taught by credentialed instructors and participate in a wide range of field trips. Currently, students are rebuilding an SBPD 1957 Chevy. PAL also runs a very popular four-day Cop & Kids Camp each summer and coordinates registration for camp scholarships offered by many entities. Only seven percent of PAL’s funding comes from government sources, necessitating significant community support.

For more info, go to http://sbpal.org.

For coverage of other events, go to independent.com/society. Send invites to gail@independent.com.

Photo: Gail ArnoldYouth Leadership Council President Erin Lazaro, PAL Boardmember, Explorer Advisor and S.B. Police Officer Adrian Gutierrez, and Explorer Sergeant William Preble
Boardmember James Stretchberry, event honoree, outgoing PAL Officer, and current S.B. Police Officer Bryan Kerr, and Boardmember Richard Auhll
Explorer Yara Martinez, Incoming PAL Advisor Beth Lazarus, and Explorer Roxanne Orta
Greg Huron and S.B. Police Chief Lori Luhnow
Photo: Gail ArnoldDistrict Attorney Joyce Dudley (center) with S.B. City Firefighters Association members Tony Pighetti (left) and Craig Stuart
Photo: Gail ArnoldPAL alumnus and event speaker Emily Beasley and Boardmember Tracy Colahan
Boardmember Tom Shapiro and Akemi Shapiro

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