Gulfport Police open new PAL Center - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Gulfport Police open new PAL Center

By Meggan Gray – bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) -  "We have the first Police Athletic League center in the state of Mississippi."

Former Gulfport Assistant Police Chief Alfred Sexton is proud to make that announcement just moments before the ribbon is cut on Gulfport's new Police Athletic League Center in on Old Pass Road.  The $1.3 million facility is a dream come true for many people, especially Sexton.

"You go to Chicago, you go to New York, you go to Florida, you find police athletic centers almost all over," Sexton said.  "And to show that once again we're leading the state by having a program and a building like this, is tremendous."

For the past decade, Gulfport police officers and volunteers have traveled from place to place to tutor and mentor thousands of children.

"Oh we've worked everywhere," Gulfport PAL president David Shoemake said. "Wherever we could find a spot to capture some kids, we've captured them. And to have a home is just it actually gives us credibility for one, because now we're not just a group of folks who meet in a parking lot, we have a house."

PAL's new home comes equipped with foosball tables, games, even a KaBoom playground.  And thanks to a surprise $50,000 donation from IP Casino and resort, one room will eventually be transformed into a computer lab for kids to use after school.  There are also plans for a culinary arts program.

The 8,200 square foot facility is in the heart of Gaston Point, in an area that was once plagued with drugs and crime.  Thomas Recore once owned the property where the center now sits. 

"They've taken what was a drug infested area where people were afraid to come and made it fantastic," said Recore.

Darla Bradley and her sister Donna have lived in Gaston Point for more than 35 years.  They know what was once here, and how this center was so badly needed.

Darla Bradley said the new center is a blessing "Because the kids need something positive to do around the neighborhood.  And they need people, secondary people who will come in and talk with them and help them and mentor them. I think this is amazing."

Gulfport Police Chief Alan Weatherford hopes to see similar programs across the coast.

"We need more centers like this to engage our children and have more interaction with the police and the children operating together to build trust in the community."

All programs offered through Gulfport's Police Athletic League are free.   Children ages 5 to 17 are eligible to sign up as a PAL member.  To learn more or to donate your time or money, just visit www.gulfportpal.com.

Copyright 2010 WLOX. All rights reserved.

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