Funding cuts imperil
By Misty Volaski
In 2001, the Ojai Police Activities
League received a $600,000 grant to run their program out of
the Oak View Community Center. Since then, P.A.L., which is headed
by Deputy Kim Larsen, has funded a variety of programs, from
one-on-one tutoring sessions to dirt bike riding in Gorman.
However, with the state government so far in debt, the grant
will no longer be renewable. As of now, the program has enough
funds to run through April of 2004, at which time the P.A.L.
board must either have found funding elsewhere or close the program's
Those funds that were set aside for California's P.A.L. programs,
said Sheriff's Capt./Ojai Chief of Police Gary Pentis, have been
transferred over to the Board of Corrections, which will use
the money for projects such as the juvenile justice system.
Most of the state's P.A.L. programs will be closing their doors
next year, but Deputy Larsen and Capt. Pentis are determined
to keep the Ojai P.A.L. alive. They have recently hired a grant
writer, who will appeal to the federal government and several
private organizations in search of resources.
"We think it's a worthwhile program," said Pentis.
Larsen agrees. "My whole focus is to get to these kids,
be able to provide a nurturing place to teach them team-building
skills, life-building skills, they might not be able to get elsewhere,"
she enthused. "We'd rather reach them at this age and be
proactive, instead of having them go through the (corrections)
Larsen added that the program worked extensively last year with
Sunset School in Oak View, giving students one-on-one time with
an older youth mentor each afternoon.
"I've never gotten so many positive phone calls from parents,"
said Pentis. "There were between 30 and 60 kids in the afternoon
Now, the Sunset program has been taken over by Ventura Unified
School District, and the after-school program was moved to the
Oak View Community Center, where it is now an integral part of
the P.A.L. program.
With P.A.L., not only do latchkey children have place to go after
school, Larsen said, but parents can spend more quality time
with their children in the evenings.
"They have to do their homework before anything else,"
she added. Once that's out of the way, kids can participate in
drop-in sports like basketball or football. They also offer occasional
clinics in subjects such as BMX biking, and have two girls' volleyball
teams, both of which are currently competing in state finals.
In the past there have been other club sports teams, such as
basketball and wrestling, all of which are coached by community
volunteers. P.A.L. advisors occasionally take kids up to Hungry
Valley or Gorman, where they teach kids to ride dirt bikes. They
stay in dorms overnight, said Larsen, and the experience is one
they'll remember for a long time.
"It's so cool to watch them," said Larsen. "When
they get the hang of it, it's great. It's such a self-confidence
builder, and they just love it."
Most of these programs were built from the ground up when Larsen
took over in July of 2001. "It was lackluster," she
said, "More like a daycare program. We changed our philosophy.
The idea is to have a law enforcement officer there to mentor
the youth. We want to be the buddy, to mentor them in a practical
way. Every kid is different."
Larsen shared stories of at-risk
kids that joined that might have otherwise ended up going through
the justice system, making them another statistic.
"We make it fun," she said. "We give them assignments.
One kid we were really worried about. But then we got some BMX
bikes and he ended up teaching a BMX clinic. The way he interacted
with the younger kids was great. It was such a difference."
Though there are officially about 150 kids signed up in P.A.L.,
they do welcome anywhere from 30 to 70 drop-in kids per day.
And, if funding permits and P.A.L. still exists, they will most
likely expand to help the Meiners Oaks Library with its after-school
program, as well.
"We're going to pick them up. We have two (P.A.L.) vans,"
said Larsen. "They have too many youths for their library."
Ideally, she added, she and Pentis would like to grow the program
throughout the valley. But with limited funds and an even more
limited staff, at the moment, "We're running at a bare minimum,"
Both Pentis and Larsen said that P.A.L. would welcome donations
from businesses or citizens; donations, they said, are tax-deductible.
Those interested in giving to P.A.L. can call the Ojai Police
Department ay 646-1414.
"This isn't about theory," Pentis emphasized. "This
is about something that really works."
The Ojai Valley News
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