PAL connects police, youth through mentoring

WESTFIELD-In the coming months, cadets with the Westfield Police Department will become an integral part of the PAL Program at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Westfield.

“We have been part of the National Police Athletic/Activities League (PAL) for around 10 years,” said Ashley Miehm who is the PAL program coordinator. Miehm and Matt Hare, the club’s athletic director, met recently with general investigative detective Rick Mazza to discuss the roll-out with the cadets. Mazza will be assisted by Chris Coach who serves as the canine officer for the Westfield Police Department.

Andrew Navarro and Ryan Adje listen to Rick Mazza of the Westfield Police Department during a recent planning session of the PAL (Police Athletic/Activities League) Program at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Westfield.

“I grew up at the Boys and Girls Club, starting at the age of 5,” said Mazza. “Until I was 18 I spent almost every day here.”

With Mazza’s insight having grown up in the city, he is confident that engaging the cadets with mentees in the PAL Program will be a win-win situation for all participants.

“We’re trying to teach kids that we are approachable,” said Mazza, adding that seeing a familiar face at the Boys and Girls Club is an important “bridge” for police and young people.

As part of the PAL Program, mentors are an integral part of the curriculum.

“We want to be a familiar face with participants in the PAL Program,” said Mazza, noting it is important for young people to have mentors.

Miehm noted that the club has received more than $174,000 through grant funds from the National PAL over the years. The local PAL Club meets once a week and mentees – boys and girls – range in age from 11 to 17.

Matt Hare, athletic director at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Westfield, holds one of the books used by mentors for the PAL Program.

“These funds have allowed the club to offer various programs ranging from ‘Cal Ripken,’ which was a program designed for teen athletics, to a program called ‘Be Great Mentoring’ which encouraged mentees to graduate and choose a career path,” said Miehm. 

Miehm added that the club has also offered the PAL McGruff Program to bring awareness to the issues that communities face relating to crime and how mentees can stay safe and help others around them.

Additionally, funds have allowed mentees and mentors to attend a youth leadership group in Washington, D.C., as well as support a summer basketball league with local police collaboration.

“For the fall we plan to continue working with our mentees and mentors through our PAL Badges for Sports curriculum,” said Miehm, noting mentees are being introduced to a variety of sports from rock climbing, lacrosse and golf to baseball and track. This fall, mentees will also be introduced to yoga, flag football and basketball.

“We plan to have a guest yoga instructor come to the club to do a class with the mentees,” said Miehm, adding, “We are also taking the mentees to a UMass basketball game in November.”

The PAL curriculum also offers lessons including sportsmanship, teamwork, leadership, respect, resilience, developing good life habits, and work ethic.

Matt Hare and Ashley Miehm, who work together on the PAL (Police Athletic/Activities League) Program at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Westfield, listen to input from club members Andrew Navarro and Ryan Adje as Rick Mazza of the Westfield Police Department looks on.

“The mentors work with the mentees during the PAL sessions on these lessons and we do activities in a large group to help culminate the lesson for the week,” said Miehm.

Ryan Adje, 13, an eighth grade student at the Westfield Middle School, and Andrew Navarro, 14, a freshman at Westfield Technical Academy, also joined the meeting and were enthusiastic about sharing experiences from their first year with the PAL Program.

“It didn’t seem cool at first but it is cool,” said Navarro. “I’ve learned a lot about leadership and teamwork, especially while attending the PAL Youth Leadership Summit in Maryland.”

Adje shared a similar sentiment.

“The program has helped me with my communication skills and at the summit, we learned the importance of setting goals and trying our hardest to meet them,” said Adje.

For Hare, who has been a part of the PAL program for the past year, he sees firsthand the importance of adults as mentors – especially police officers – interacting with young people at the club.

“On a daily basis we are mentors,” said Hare, noting that fellow staffers Carlan Gideon and Kyle Snide are also integral members of the PAL Program with Miehm.

That perspective was apparent when both Adje and Navarro left the meeting to participate in club activities.

“Matt is a big brother to us,” said Adje, as Navarro added, “Matt is fun and is a person we can talk to anytime.”

For more information on the PAL Program, contact Miehm at (413) 562-2301.

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