October 21, 2014

Medina
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Police youth program is killed

MEDINA — After two years of giving Medina kids a chance to play, learn and stay safe after school, the Police Activities League disbanded this week after organizer Detective Scott Thomas stepped down.

Mayor Dennis Hanwell recommended to members of City Council’s Finance Committee this week that they remove the PAL positions from the department because Thomas, who is “winding down his career,” could not find a replacement.

“He just hasn’t found anybody. It requires quite a bit of oversight and time commitment,” Hanwell said.

PAL is an offshoot of the court’s Juvenile Diversion Program for delinquents, but the program is open to any child age 10 to 17.

Thomas started PAL two years ago with funding from Juvenile/Probate Judge John J. Lohn’s office, which gave PAL $10,000 to $19,000 a year. Thomas and several police officers and civilians would be compensated hourly for their work, but often would exceed their paid hours, Thomas said.

The program’s goal was to provide athletic and recreational activities for youths and help build trust between them and police officers.

Lohn could not be reached for comment this week.

Thomas has organized activities such as boxing, pingpong, tutoring and board games for the kids in PAL. They met at the National Guard Armory on Lafayette Road on Mondays and Wednesdays from 3 to 6 p.m.

The program was free and included transportation and snacks.

The Medina County Red Cross honored Thomas as a Heartland Hero early in May for his efforts. In light of the program’s end, he called the honor “bittersweet.”

“When I started the PAL program a little over two years ago, I was hoping that there would be a person who would continue the program,” Thomas said. “Time is an issue. People, I think, have so many things going on in their lives.

“I feel really bad that we’re not going to offer it anymore,” he said.

The inspiration for PAL came from wanting to offer role models to first-time offenders and youths, provide working parents with childcare options, and keep kids off the street at the time they are at greatest risk.

“Some people thought it was a program for high-risk kids, but that’s not true. Any kid is at risk just from being a youth,” Thomas said.

PAL had 85 kids from across the county enlisted this year.

While PAL is discontinued, Thomas said the diversion program will be continued, and he will try to keep the boxing activities that were a part of PAL available.

“I would like to keep the boxing going for the next couple of years,” Thomas said. “And that will continue after school. It will still be at the armory. We have a boxing ring out there.”

Thomas said about 15 kids were interested in continuing the boxing program.

As for the rest of the program, Thomas is still trying to find a person or organization to continue PAL. He said the local YWCA was interested in continuing the program, but ultimately did not have the staff or resources necessary to do so.

“A lot of programs come and go, but I really felt strongly (about PAL). I really wish there was another way we could have done this,” Thomas said.

Contact Kaitlin Bushinski at (330) 721-4050 or kbushinski@medina-gazette.com.