Dr. Athole Jacobi is a longtime PAL Board member and donor. Dr. Jacobi’s influence on PAL and the Education Committee has been transformative to say the least. In 1990, when she joined the PAL board, PAL primarily served boys and offered mostly athletic activities geared to boys. Dr. Jacobi championed the “all-inclusive” approach that we now all recognize as vital to supporting our whole youth community. The growth in our educational activities has been guided and supported by Athole every inch of the way, and today, PAL’s education budget is larger than our athletic budget! Athole has championed our great relationship with Temple and been instrumental in the process of designing PAL’s outcomes and evaluation system. She has pushed the whole organization to balance education with athletics and she is unabashed about her expectations that board members and donors pitch in and get involved. Dr. Jacobi is always fond of reminding the masses that PAL must be fun for our kids.
What is your history with PAL and how did you first learn about PAL?
Way, way, way, way back in 1989, PAL was honoring Ed Snider at the PAL Award Dinner. The morning of the PAL Dinner, my friend, Mark Mendel, called me and said he needed a favor. He had a table for the PAL Award Dinner, and someone had canceled on him at last minute. He asked me to fill the seat, and, without knowing what PAL was, I agreed but had to ask, “what’s PAL?” While at the Dinner, one of the speakers had mentioned the cost of keeping a kid in PAL as opposed to keeping a kid in juvenile detention, and I was impressed right away. Shortly after the Dinner, Sally Berlin called me and asked me to be a part of the PAL Board of Directors. I was agreeable, and the rest is history.
Throughout the years, you’ve done so much to support the PAL Education Committee, serving as chair for many years. In many ways, it has been your passion. What led you to put your energy behind this committee?
Upon joining the PAL Board, I had to take part in a committee. I looked at the various committees and thought the Education Committee might be a good fit for me. For two to three years, we talked a lot about mentoring, but really didn’t get anything off the ground. This was a stepping stone, though. After serving for a few years, PAL Commanding Officer Melendez asked me to chair the committee – he challenged me – and from there it took off. We started the PAL Homework Club, the PAL Challenge, and, for the first time, I encouraged the PAL Board to create a staff position for an education coordinator. Today, we have Chase and his team doing a great job.
What drew you to PAL? Why were you interested in supporting it?
Really, I mean, aside from the financial aspect of supporting a kid in PAL vs. a kid in detention, at the Dinner, PAL described what they did for kids and it was very impressive. However, I didn’t know how important PAL really was until I was a Board member and went to visit a PAL center. When I saw what was going on there, I became hooked. I’d like to see more supporters and Board members able to experience what goes on in a PAL center.
Why do you think PAL is so important for children, teens, and families in the Philadelphia region?
By far, to me, the single most important thing PAL does is give kids a safe place to go five times a week, and sometimes on the weekends. Sure, athletics are important, and education is vastly important, but you can’t overlook the safety aspect of these centers. While in PAL centers, kids see police officers in a different light – they see them on their side. Unfortunately, many of our PAL kids come from homes without strong parental figures. It’s very important and exciting to me that these kids have their PAL officers – a strong adult presence – in their lives.
Throughout the years, you’ve done so much to support education in PAL centers, and the PAL Scholarship Foundation. Why are they so important to you?
As I mentioned earlier, education is vastly important, and for so many years it seemed like sending kids to college was equally as important. But there is still room for improvement. I think we need to branch out and do a better job of showing our students other options – sometimes college isn’t the best fit for an individual, and many kids are graduating with few job prospects and loads of debt. It would be advantageous if, looking ahead, PAL could counsel kids about their futures. If there is a kid, and he wants to be a hairdresser, or he wants to go to college, it is our job to educate him how to go about it. We need to do a better job of asking kids, “what would you like to do, and how can I help you get there?” It is important to be supportive and to help these children achieve what they’d like to do. I am always happy to support, whether their futures lead to colleges, trade schools, or other options.
What is your hope for the PAL kids whom you have supported over the years?
It is my hope that their lives have been impacted positively, and that they lead safe, happy, fruitful lives with decent incomes and job security.
If you could impart any advice on PAL kids, what would it be?
I would tell them a few things. I want them to be safe, keep their noses clean, and to see police officers as friends, not enemies. Also, I’d stress the importance of high school. Go to high school and graduate! That is most important. You can’t do anything unless you finish high school, and our police officers and PAL centers will help you do just that. PAL can be a resource to help you achieve a successful life.
Is there anything else you’d like to say about PAL?
It has been a real privilege to contribute to PAL, and it is a privilege to be on the Board and to have gone up the ladder. We’ve been able to achieve so much with the PAL Education Committee, and as much as the kids have benefited, this experience has been mutually advantageous.