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Police Athletic League helps teens RISE to the top

Police Athletic League reaches out to teens who have been incarcerated. Provides internship opportunities, mentoring and job placement.

In the fall of 2010, Marquise Herbert got into a fight near his Bronx apartment. He was arrested, pleaded guilty and eventually received five years of probation.

His probation officer then sent him to the Police Athletic League’s RISE program, which offers job placement and other services to teenage boys ages 16 to 19 who have been involved with the criminal court system.

“We want to empower them to take control of their lives,” said RISE’s founder, Bobby Ferazi.

Herbert, now 18, admits he was skeptical at first.

But he now says the program has helped him mature and get valuable work experience, including an internship in the Police Athletic League’s grants department.

“They don’t bug you,” Herbert said about his RISE program supervisors. “They just really want to get you on track.”

In another success, he also recently passed his GED test and plans to attend college this fall.

RISE was created in 2008 as an offshoot of the Police Athletic League’s Youth Link program, which helps kids ages 11 to 16. Originally, RISE only had enough money to hire one part-time social worker, but this January a Capital One grant kicked in that will allow it to hire a full-time job developer and a full-time social worker.

The Capital One money will also pay for internships at PAL and for externships at restaurants, retail stores and elsewhere.

Right now, RISE has an active caseload of about a dozen teenagers, but Ferazi hopes to ramp that up to 50 or 75 by the end of the year.

“We ultimately want to track them for years to make sure they stay employed,” Ferazi said. “We don’t want to just put a Band-Aid on this.”

Teens treated like adults

New York is one of only two states that processes 16- to 18-year-olds in the adult criminal court system rather than in juvenile court. “If they’re convicted they’re sent to Rikers Island,” said Bobby Ferazi of PAL, who added that a felony charge can follow them for life. “They may as well have an ‘F’ tattooed to their forehead.”

What is the Police Athletic League?

In 1914, the then-commissioner of the NYPD, Arthur Woods, asked his police officers to do more than just fight crime: He wanted them to help some of the neediest New Yorkers in their precincts. Woods was particularly concerned about the lack of open space for New York City children to play and he started a city-wide search for vacant lots, which could be converted into playgrounds.

Today, the organization Woods founded, along with Lower East Side police captain John Sweeney, is now known as the Police Athletic League, a nonprofit that helps set up safe recreation areas, after-school programs and mentoring for kids and teens.

Once a month, Metro will feature updates about what the Police Athletic League is doing and how they are working to help make New York City streets healthier and safer.

Opinion: Helping troubled youth

The Police Athletic League serves 46,000 youth living in the most challenged communities of the city, which have the highest rates of poverty and juvenile crime. With the support of PAL education, sports and recreational activities, our youth gain the tools to become productive adult members of society.

PAL is unusual in that it also reaches out into the community to reconnect youth, who are truant from school, are under 16 and on probation, or who have fallen prey to youth “crews,” causing them to be incarcerated at Rikers Island.

With the proper support, role models and positive activities, these youth can “RISE” beyond their experiences to have the chance to become our future leaders.

– Alana Sweeny is executive director of the Police Athletic League.

Metro does not endorse the opinions of the author, or any opinions expressed on its pages.

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