PAL Offers Kids Summer Fun In Canarsie Park
But under the shade of the towering oak and maple trees, the eastern end of the park had been turned into a safe, comfortable haven for scores of local youngsters thanks to the Police Athletic League (PAL).
Approaching the DiNapoli Playground, near East 92nd Street, the shouts and laughter of children filled the air, along with rustling leaves and the familiar thud of basketballs, all of which heralded the excitement of one of PAL's 130 Playstreet sites. Founded in 1914, the organization provides summer day camps for the city's youth.
Salisbury said the Canarsie Park site alone enrolls around 200 kids each summer and a PAL press release claims Playstreet serves 25,000 children each summer.
The camps have evolved over time to suit the recreational, cultural and educational landscape, Playsreet director Jack Thomas said, but they have always been grounded in providing children an outlet on those long summer days.
Thomas joined the PAL after spending 33 years with the Boys and Girls Club in the Bronx, where, he said, the two organizations shared many children and subsequently partnered on countless programs. In the four years since he took over Playstreet, Thomas has implemented a number of new programs to increase the scope of the PAL's summer program.
In addition to a decade-long drug prevention program, Thomas added health and nutrition education. Colorful posters created by children for both programs hung along the fence surrounding the playground.
Playstreet focuses on a number of activities beyond health education to teach its participants valuable life lessons. The activities start with a word of the day, which the older kids define for the younger ones, and then everyone writes a story involving the word.
Physical education has always been at the core, progressing from traditional street games, like skelly, which Thomas said he and his father played but is extinct beyond the confines of Playstreet, to softball, basketball and, given the influx of immigrant children, soccer.
Arts and crafts also play a major role. "It brings out the imagination in children's minds," arts and crafts specialist Kimberly Poucely said. "It's a way for them to express themselves."
In her first year at Playstreet, she said the program was a natural fit because she hopes to study pediatrics or othopedics.
In preparation for an impending water balloon fight, Poucely and some staffers packed up the board games and art supplies in plastic bags, while Keyra Serrano and Nakeisha Reece, both 10, filled balloons in a nearby fountain. PAL Borough Coordinator Jacqueline Smith started the water battles several years ago to keep the children cool on hot summer days, which tend to be everyday for this program that runs the months of July and August.
Anyone standing around dry became an instant target, including Davonna Stroble, 15, a self-professed queen of Connect Four, one of the many board games provided by the PAL to each site to test children's mental acuity. She and 15-year-old Arieo Bon are PAL Summer Youth counselors, which is an employment program for former Playstreet participants.
After being doused with numerous gun squirts and bottle splashes, both girls admitted the program was good for getting kids out of the house and meeting new people.
"We're getting paid to just have fun," Bon said.
"But," Stroble was quick to add, "the kids have fun, too."
Which is really what the program is all about - keeping kids out of trouble and having fun outdoor alternatives to television, X-box and, hopefully, drugs.
Smith cites the program motto, which Thomas coined, as proof: "Children first, children second, children always."