The Ventura Police Activities League (PAL) provides after-school activities to keep kids busy and out of trouble
Sal Flores grew up roaming the streets of westside Ventura with nothing to do afterschool. He got involved with the wrong crowd landing him in juvenile hall at the age of 13.
“I remember being in juvenile hall and praying to God – if you ever get me out of this mess of gangs and my life, I promise, I will do something to help others,” recalled Flores.
He’s fulfilled that promise many times over approximately 20 years later. The Ventura resident has changed the lives of hundreds of local youth through the Ventura Police Activities League (PAL) Boxing Club at the Westpark Community Center. As a volunteer through the PAL program, he’s a boxing coach and mentor for kids in the program. He also chaperones them on trips to Los Angeles Dodgers baseball games, kayaking at the beach and other field trips throughout the year.
Keeping youth busy
The Ventura PAL was started about 20 years ago with help from Aera Energy. It promotes involvement between youth, police, and citizens of the City of Ventura. Kids are encouraged to take part in sports, academics, education, and recreational enrichment activities to keep them busy, off the streets and to provide positive alternatives to gangs, drugs and criminal behavior.
“One of the biggest contributors to juvenile delinquency and crime is downtime with a lack of structure and activities for kids,” said Ventura Police Chief Darin Schindler. “It’s very important to have something that fills that void from the time they get out of school to the time they are with their parents.”
PAL activites include Program for After School Kids (PEAK), computer classes, sports leagues, and chaperoned field trips. Prior to the pandemic, about 1,500 youth participated in the program each year. Aera continues to sponsor PAL’s annual Golf Tournament every year.
A blessing in return
Flores recalls a trip he took with some of the kids to watch the Los Angeles Dodgers play a few months ago. Out of the 15, he was surprised to hear that only one had previously been to a game. Flores believes in enriching the lives of these youth and knows he can make an impact as a role model – even if it’s just for a few hours a day.
“These are such great programs, if I could have had something like the Ventura PAL programs when I was growing up, who knows? My life could have gone a completely different direction,” Flores said.
He added, “but thinking of all the positive results I’ve seen with the kids has been well worth all the volunteer hours I’ve put in to help these kids. Imagine this, you pull up at the community center and you have ten kids waiting for you at your parking spot – you talk about us being a blessing to them, when they are really a blessing to me.”