The New Haven Police Athletic League’s conversion to nonprofit status last year is already bearing fruit.
In 2014, NHPD Sgt. Albert McFadden spearheaded an effort to expand PAL, a group within the New Haven Police Department that provides enriching programming to the community to establish a bond between local residents and the police force. The organization became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in February 2015. As a nonprofit, PAL receives greater funding from local businesses and can apply for state and federal grants to support its programming. With these added funds, PAL has been able to grow the size of its summer camp and introduce new baseball, basketball and wrestling teams, all coached by NHPD officers.
“Up until two years ago, the Police Athletic League just did programs for kids in the city sparingly,” said McFadden, the executive director of PAL. “We wanted to do more. We wanted to run programs year-round. So how did we do that? What we did was we started researching and we found out that most police athletic leagues went nonprofit.”
PAL’s wrestling team, formed late last year, has achieved substantial success during its inaugural season. Comprised of 11 male and four female wrestlers, the team emerged from the recent growth of the PAL. Coached by officers of the NHPD, the coed team of children, aged eight to 13, meets twice a week and competes on Sundays. The team has collected 22 gold, silver and bronze medals over the past five months. Although their season has come to an end, the team will send three wrestlers, one girl and two boys, to Connecticut’s statewide wrestling tournament.
“The New Haven Police Department is very proud of our wrestlers and the success of their first season,” PAL treasurer and NHPD Sgt. Elisa Tuozzoli said. “New Haven PAL looks forward to growing its wrestling program and the continued success of our wrestlers in the years to come.”
Latrice Hampton, a 2009 graduate of local Wilbur Cross High School, said PAL and the programs they offer contributed positively to her high school experience. A former athlete herself, Hampton said PAL helped her “understand the importance of athletics in establishing pride.”
New Haven’s PAL has primarily offered a one-month youth summer camp called Camp New Haven for more than 25 years. Each year, the camp provides free spots to 30 or 40 students, McFadden said.
But four years ago, after approval from NHPD Chief Dean Esserman, the camp was able to expand and accept more young residents. Since then, the camp has grown even more.
“We wanted more children exposed to police officers, getting to know police officers, feeling very comfortable around police officers,” McFadden said. “So we decided to expand the camp … We went to 100. And from 100 the next year it went to 150. Last year we reached 250. This year our goal is 300 kids.”
The camp, which runs for eight hours a day from Monday to Friday during the summer months, offers children more than just athletic opportunities. Campers are also taught art skills and about nutrition from NHPD officers. This past year, children participated in several one-hour reading periods. McFadden said the goal is to keep the children engaged over the hot summer months.
PAL receives a significant level of support from local businesses, from city government and from the University. For the past several years, volunteers from Yale-New Haven Hospital have spent two days per summer with the children, instructing them in health and showing them a mock operating room.
“We could not do it without the many partners we have,” McFadden said. “We calculated that it costs on average $375 a kid to participate in this camp. But these kids don’t pay a dime.”
Tuozzoli, who was one of three of the wrestling team’s coaches, noted that community members also lend assistance to PAL. In a written statement, she acknowledged the contributions the wrestlers’ relatives and guardians made to her team, noting that these were the individuals who transported the wrestlers to tournaments and practices.
McFadden also recognized the wealth of athletic talent within the NHPD. PAL allows officers who excelled at a sport in high school or college to bring their experience to New Haven residents.
“What we do is we encourage those officers to come and teach the children those sports,” McFadden said.
New Haven children have responded enthusiastically to the summer camp. The spots for the camp fill up in roughly two weeks, McFadden said.
PAL will launch its first baseball league this spring.