PAL program helps keep children off street - so does curfew sweep
by: John Klicker, Brandon Schrepfer, 14, left, tries to steel the ball from Mohamed Noor, 12, during a soccer game at Pal Youth Center on Tuesday.

It's spring break this week and the youth in Gresham are choosing different ways to spend their free time - good and not so good.

Sanders Little, 16, chose to take part in recreational activities being held this week at the Police Activities League (PAL)center.

'It's pretty cool that kids actually get to come here and do stuff during spring break, so they don't have to be home with their parents and stuff,' said Sanders. 'I usually come here every day to play basketball.'

Basketball is his favorite pastime, but he was having fun playing video games on Monday, March 24, at the center, at 424 N.E. 172nd Street, between Burnside Road and Glisan Street.

A non-profit organization, PAL provides educational, recreational and athletic programs to the youth of the Gresham and East Portland area with an emphasis on disadvantaged youth. This week, PAL teamed up with El Programa Hispano to offer a bunch of spring break activities for youth.

Besides soccer, basketball and floor hockey, there was a sledding trip to Mount Hood, a movie marathon, pool tournaments, chess tournament and art projects, among others. There will be a trip to the Portland Art Museum on Thursday, March 27, and there will be a big barbecue Friday, March 28.

PAL is open year round, but it usually is a lot busier during spring break.

'They come to play basketball, but they also know they can come to us for anything else too, from help in getting food on occasion to job stuff, or college tours,' said Britt Fredrickson, PAL teen director. 'If they are coming here, they are making the right choice, because there are a lot of bad options.'

Besides recreational activities, PAL helps teens get a food-handlers license to get their first job, doing mock job interviews and tours of college campuses.

'I don't think there's a lot out here for teenagers to do,' she said. 'You see all these kids hanging out on the MAX stops because there's nowhere to go.'

Other youth didn't make choices that were nearly as good - staying out past the 11 p.m. curfew in Gresham on Saturday, March 22.

Gresham police conducted a curfew sweep that night and made 43 arrests. Statewide curfew for children younger than 18, unaccompanied by a legal guardian, is midnight to 4 a.m.; Gresham's is stricter at 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Gresham police put out extra teams focusing on curfew in an effort to nip any potential spring break issues in the bud, said Sgt. Claudio Grandjean, police information officer.

'We just wanted to put a dent in it and evaluate what we had and determine if we need to do any more sweeps throughout the week,' Grandjean said. 'Forty three is a real high number.

'We understand that curfew isn't the crime of the century, it's just that the problem of kids out can lead to a lot of other problems,' he said. 'Our experiences have told us that quite often kids out after curfew are often the victims of crime or perpetrators of crime.'

Historically, the Gresham Police Department has encountered a high number of juveniles involved in crimes, either as victims or suspects, who are out after curfew during Spring Break. The mission will also focus on enforcing other crimes uncovered during post-curfew contacts.

Officers brought curfew breakers back to the precinct and extra staff members made calls to parents to retrieve their children.

'When the parents pick them up, that's when the education piece comes in,' Grandjean said. 'We give them some brochures that tell them what the ordinance is, and let them also know that if they allow a child out after curfew, they could be cited also.'

Gresham police also have a drug recognition expert run the children through tests to see if they are under the influence of anything.

'Of those 43 kids, we found that roughly two-thirds were under the influence of marijuana, and about 10 percent were under the influence of alcohol,' Grandjean said.

Perhaps these 43 will join other kids this week making good choices and join the fun at PAL.

'I think the organizations that are out here do a lot with little funding resources,' said Beth Faulhaber, vice president of PAL. 'Any way to be able to increase their capacity to be able to provide more programming would be helpful.'

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