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Published: Tuesday, 1/29/2008

Youth league getting $1M to expand its programs

BY MEGHAN GILBERT
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Kaptur Kaptur
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A $1 million federal grant will help law enforcement create more recreation and tutoring opportunities for area youth, officials said yesterday.

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) announced the funding from the U.S. Department of Justice that will help the Toledo-Lucas County Police Athletic League get settled in its new location in the former Leverette Junior High School, 1111 East Manhattan Blvd.

"This place will be a safe place for our youth," she said. "They can come here and they can feel free."

Following the North Toledo riot on Oct. 15, 2005, that was fueled by a planned neo-Nazi march through a mostly black neighborhood, Miss Kaptur took part in community discussions about the need for positive activities for young people. The work of the Police Athletic League does that, she said.

Anyone under 18 can participate in the basketball, baseball, camping, and tutoring and mentoring activities.

Deverell Flowers, 14, said he began playing basketball and baseball with the league when he was in fifth grade and the program taught him you can count on people there to help.

Now an eighth-grade student at Leverette, he said that he saw how some of the bad students were changed by the program and said it helped keep him on the right track.

"It helped me to realize you can do more, and the police can be there to help you," he said.

Now youth like Deverell will have their own place for that interaction in the former Leverette's newer gym and locker room additions and classroom space in the school.

The grant money will help with operational costs, such as rent and utilities, and to hire a program manager, pay tutors, and buy equipment.

Superintendent John Foley said the district is committed to working with the athletic league.

After the new Leverette Middle School was opened at the beginning of the school year, it was a good fit for the league to use the old building. "We've been talking about the need to have a community that supports children," Mr. Foley said. "When we build strong neighborhoods, we have strong schools and strong communities."

Participation in the Police Athletic League has dwindled recently with no physical presence, but Toledo Police Chief Mike Navarre said there were as many as 477 participants in 2005.

The league most recently was using the Armory Building at the University of Toledo, but its use is being phased out. Plans call for the structure to be razed.

With the new facility at Leverette to pique children's interest, organizers said they need more interested community members to volunteer as coaches and mentors to make the program thrive again.

Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner said they need twice the number of leaders, teachers, coaches, and mentors in the community.

"That is the greatest single need in America today for our young people," he said.

Contact Meghan Gilbert at: mgilbert@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



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