Ever since the Southard School closed, one of the biggest questions around Howell is what would become of the elementary school on Kent Rd. just off of Route 9. As of last month, that question was at least partially answered when the Howell Police Athletic League made the building its new home.
Sgt. Chris Hill said that while the organization has run their activities out of schools across the town in the past, it is nice to have everything basically under one roof. "What's different is we have a lot of space and we can actually do a lot of programs that we had always dreamed of doing and provide more services to the town," he said.
The newest programs include art classes for children of various ages, exercise classes for adults and a special needs program that has expanded since merging with a similar one formerly administered by the township. There are also a variety of new programs on the horizon, including mommy and me options, SAT prep classes and others that Hill said he is still working on.
Another advantage for families taking part in the PAL programs according to Hill is that some are free while others only have a "nominal," cost. "Our goal is to provide low cost activities for the parents and the kids," he said.
Once the PAL is settled into its new location, Hill said he hopes the building will be a hub for the community and provide valuable resources for the township. "We're trying to make this that central location where a parent can come and drop their kid off and realize that they can run over to or or for a little quiet time where they know their kids are safe."
In recent months, the PAL has begun the township's recreation programs, which Hill said helps in their goal of being there for as many of the town's children as possible. "Our goal is to be that place where a kid can come in off the street and not worry about getting in trouble," he said. "We're going to have rules. This is not going to be a place to come and cut up because we don't do that. We're going to provide a safe and secure environment where a kid can learn and enjoy and be encouraged."
One of the things Hill said he would like to see at some point is for the building to have a new name, possibly through a town-wide contest. He also said he would like to see more people from the community take advantage of the building. "We have a lot of rooms here. Local organizations, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, whatever it might be, everybody needs a place to meet," he said. "We have rooms here. I'm sure if they come and talk to us we can come to an agreement of some sort where they can now have their meetings in this building and now they know where they're going to meet instead of going from house to house."
Harold Foley is a retired corporal in the Howell Police Department who runs the day to day activities of the PAL. Foley said with the organization servicing at least 3500 children through their various programs they are becoming much better known in recent years. "It's going to be impossible for someone not to know about PAL and if they're not in the program there's probably somebody in their family or one of their friends who are."
Another person responsible for running the organization is Jaime Szyarto, the program coordinator. Szyarto has a unique perspective on their new home having been involved with PAL since she was in school. "If you had asked us this question of our vision of what PAL would become 10 years ago, it was just a vision, but now to actually see it happen and come alive is great," she said.
Having known Sgt. Hill for more than a decade, Szyarto said a lot of the credit for PAL's success goes to him. "Everyone here could probably say the same thing that without Sgt. Hill being a part of this we wouldn't be what we are today," she said. Szyarto, Foley and Chief Financial Officer Howard Dunbar all said that credit also goes to the office staff and volunteers who help with the various programs.
Hill also has a unique perspective on how successful PAL can be as he currently serves as the vice president of the national organization. "We have a lot of resources and we have a lot of kids so we can put the two together so people can have some help through these difficult times and just enjoy life as stress free as possible," he said.
He also added that the Howell chapter is known as one of the best across the country with similar organizations from all over will call and seek his advice about how to help their communities. And while he is happy to help, Hill said he also feeds off of them to help the Howell children. He said that while the Howell lacrosse program had an impressive total of 120 children involved, a similar league in Long Island has more than 5000 participants. "Howell is going to out do Long Island. That's my goal," he said with a laugh.
Foley said part of the success of the Howell league is attributed to the way the community works together. "There's really a unique relationship here between the police department, the PAL, the town including the manager and the council and the school district," he said. "Without all those components working together you can't get this done."