Salt Lake City, UT,
08:19 AM

A Thankful Turkey Tradition

State Farm, Youth, and PALs Provide Plentiful Feast For Those In Need

When you think of the word “pal” you think of a buddy or an acquaintance. But you may not know it also means “a mechanism which stops something from moving the wrong way.”

And that’s exactly what the South Salt Lake Police Athletic League (PAL) is striving to do: stop youth from moving the wrong way. In fact, area crime has been reduced by 65% between the hours of 3pm-7pm thanks to the PAL chapter.

Because of their progress, they were awarded the Directors Community Leadership Award by the FBI in 2015, a prestigious award which only four organizations receive annually in the nation.

South Salt Lake PALs

It all started in 1995 with a game of softball between neighborhood kids and the police. In 1998, Jerry Silva took over the South Salt Lake PAL program. Jerry, the current PAL director and a local police officer, started playing street hockey with kids in an underprivileged neighborhood.

Soon, local fire fighters got involved and it grew fast; officers were coaching flag football and paying for kids to play in athletic tournaments around the US.

Today, the PAL program has evolved into a nationally recognized after-school mentoring and boxing program. It is modeled after the original PAL chapter in New York City, were Muhammad Ali got his start.

“Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr, aka Muhammad Ali, was born in 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky. Of all things, a red-and-white Schwinn bike steered Cassius to his future as a heavyweight champion boxer; the greatest," Jerry recalled. "When his beloved bicycle was stolen, the tearful 12-year-old Clay reported the theft to Louisville police officer Joe Martin (1916-1996)."

"Preteen Clay vowed to pummel the culprit. Martin, who was also a boxing trainer at the local PAL Boxing Gym, suggested the upset youngster first learn how to box, and he took Clay under his wing,” continued Jerry. “We here at the South Salt Lake PAL tell this story often because it shows these kids that working hard and using boxing as an avenue to better your self is the key.”

Boxing and mentoring program

The program, supported by State Farm, gravitated toward boxing instead of soccer and other sports because it’s less mainstream. Boxing is also a way for young kids to let out their aggressions in a safe environment.

“We are not teaching kids how to fight, we are teaching them when boxing is appropriate and the proper ways to box. But most importantly we are teaching our youth to have confidence,” shared Jerry.

Before any boxing or other recreational activities take place, all the students, approximately 70, must finish their homework. Members from the community volunteer to be a tutor like State Farm Agent Jonathan Hertel.

Jerry and Jonathan

“I came from a broken home, and easily could have gone down the wrong path. But because of mentors like Jerry in my life I am blessed to be where I am today,” reflected Jonathan. “That’s why I got involved, because it hit home for me. What they do for these kids is amazing. Instead of these kids being involved in juvenile crime and violence they create a way for them to be involved in athletic, recreational and especially educational opportunities.”

Pay it forward

“We teach our kids to pay it forward—that’s our philosophy,” Jerry explained.

Each year around Thanksgiving, the PAL youth identify several families in their neighborhood who could use a good Thanksgiving meal. PAL works with the local food bank and other organizations to deliver a home cooked meal to those families. More than 50 families receive a Thanksgiving meal prepared by the local culinary school in Salt Lake City.

Graduating and reaching new heights

Many of the kids from the South Salt Lake chapter graduate and go on to live successful lives. Three great examples are recent members, two are in the Air Force and the other is a World Champion Boxer.

"PAL not only helped me achieve physical fitness and develop great study habits, but it helped me become a great leader," shared Private First Class Pablo Garcia, a PAL alumn who is now stationed in Japan. "Because I attended leadership conferences when I was involved with PAL, I am now in a leadership role in the military."

Not every kid graduates, but there are more success stories than not. Most of the members go on to do great things and raise a family of their own. As for Jerry, he has yet to miss a graduation of one of his PALs.

“We’re the best kept secret, but we don’t want to be a secret anymore,” Jerry shared. “We want people to see what we do as a police force every day and we feel every police department in the country should have a PALs. I’d encourage more community leaders to consider tutoring at their local PAL chapter, too.”

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