By: Kevin Hutt
One of the things PAL does best is provide some respite to those who need it (knowingly or unknowingly). Perhaps a troubled PAL kid makes a visit to a center to “hang out,” or maybe they play a PAL sport, or simply may be the recipient of a kind word from one of PAL’s officers. The thing is that, most likely, that PAL kid feels better after their PAL experience.
I received two bits of unrelated news on February 11, 1988. The first was that my sister had been diagnosed with leukemia, obviously devastating news for our family. The second item was that I had been chosen to represent Rizzo PAL as Mayor for “PAL Day at City Hall.” There it was, though PAL had no way of knowing how much a smile meant to me that day, PAL did what PAL did best, provide respite… a short period of relief from something unpleasant.
PAL was such an important part of my life during the 1980’s. Of course, it is with the limited wisdom I am only beginning to acquire that I see that although I “aged out” of PAL’s programs at the end of that decade, PAL’s impressions continued to mold me through the 90’s into the 2000’s, until this very day.
I played organized basketball and baseball for Rizzo PAL. I played countless pickup basketball games after school and in the evenings in PAL’s hot gym. I remember the cold water of the water fountain, dunking on the low rims, even sneaking into the old boxing ring once or twice for some sparring sessions. I used their weight room, played ping-pong, shot pool, and played air hockey. Anyone who visited Rizzo PAL during the 1980’s will remember the names of men like Johnny O., Dan Carr, Bill Hunter, Jack, and Jim Houseman. My contemporaries from the 80’s are older now than most of those guys were then! Gentlemen, thank you for your tremendous influence!
PAL afforded me the opportunity to shadow Mayor Wilson Goode for a day, lead the city in the Pledge of Allegiance on Flag Day, attend programs with the Union League of Philadelphia and the World Affairs Council, and PAL also awarded me a partial scholarship for my undergraduate education at Temple University. PAL even provided me a good portion of my wardrobe, with their ubiquitous PAL t-shirts! Thank you, PAL, for all of it.
Now I know I was very lucky. A lot of it can be attributed to the job my parents did in raising me, but PAL also must have saw something in me. Whatever it was, Officer Jim Houseman in particular was instrumental in making sure I was able to benefit from those great opportunities, and I am eternally grateful.
Yet, my most treasured PAL memories aren’t even true “PAL memories,” per se. Rather, when I reflect back on those days, what I value most were my walks home from PAL. Four blocks east over Clearfield Street to Thompson, maybe a few minutes of time, tops… but that walk was usually spent in a blissful state, after spending time having sheer fun. It was a respite from whatever challenges life presented, and I was simply feeling better for having had that PAL experience.
I’m happy to report that my sister held her cancer at bay in 1988, and again a few years later, and is doing awesome. I am also happy to know that PAL remains, also doing awesome, and continues to offer respite to many.
Young Philadelphians, please, take advantage of the fabulous opportunities PAL offers. Everyone else, please consider supporting PAL. Believe me, PAL makes a difference!