Henrico Police Athletic League celebrates new home in Central Gardens

Facility will serve as a ‘safe haven’ for youth, with classrooms, recreational amenities

Henrico PAL Executive Director Kenny Ragland surveyed the 500 excited youth campers who stood before him and paused, relishing the silence.

“That speaks volumes about the type of service, the values and the three Rs that we teach: to respect yourself, respect others and respect property,” he said.

Then, the retired Henrico Police officer cued the boys and girls, repeatedly calling out, “Henrico!” Each time, they responded, “PAL!”

With that exuberance and commitment to building strong, poised youth, the nonprofit Henrico Police Athletic League (PAL) on Monday cut the ribbon on its new home in the former MathScience Innovation Center, on Hartman Street in the Central Gardens neighborhood.

The 1961 school campus, which is leased from Henrico County, houses Henrico PAL’s administrative offices and space for its afterschool and summer programs.

The organization has outfitted a recording studio and outlined an ambitious vision that includes a gymnasium, dancing and boxing studios, multipurpose room and classrooms for instruction in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) and access to esports, or video gaming.

“What you see here today – and this is not hyperbole – it’s really going to change the lives of young people today, tomorrow and into the future,” Ragland said in remarks to county officials and other supporters. “What we’re planning to do is create and build a facility … that will be a safe haven [for] our young people – not only here in Henrico but any kid that lives in the area.”

Henrico PAL has engaged VMDO Architects and is working to launch a capital campaign to complete its vision for the facility.

“The road has just started, so we’re here today, but we’re going to be contacting you all because we still have a lot to do,” said Henrico PAL President Johnny Newman, a former standout basketball player for the University of Richmond and NBA.

“This is our future right now we are in charge of,” he said of the youth campers. “We have to do what we can for them to have the best lives like we do and we were able to have.”

Henrico PAL was established in 2007 to support at-risk youth and strengthen the relationship between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve. The organization is part of the national PAL program, which was started in 1910 by the New York Police Department.

In his remarks, Ragland thanked Board of Supervisors Chairman Frank J. Thornton and then-County Manager Virgil R. Hazelett for their early support, and he credited County Manager John A. Vithoulkas for suggesting the vacant school campus as a home for Henrico PAL.

“This facility and location will set the tone and vista as HPAL prepares to meet the educational, social and systemic challenges for our youth and community in the 21st century,” Thornton said. “Please accept our profound congratulations as the HPAL program continues to make a difference in the lives of many of our youth.”

The ribbon-cutting event capped Henrico PAL’s Community Day, which gives campers an opportunity to engage in community service projects. Henrico PAL is conducting a food drive to benefit the Henrico Community Food Bank through Friday, Aug. 4, with the goal of producing 2,000 meals. At nearby Harvie Elementary School, HPAL campers created a “hundreds chart” to help students learn mathematical concepts and patterns. They also composed personal letters to local seniors to promote intergenerational connections.

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