AUBURN — When second-grader Naima Noor, 7, saw from her school bus last week the PAL center’s “Open” sign, she got excited.

She likes coming to the center after school.

“I like to play here,” she said. “I like to do my homework here. Sometimes I have new friends. I play soccer.”

So do a lot of other students.

With leadership from Auburn Police Chief Phil Crowell, the Police Activity League Center opened in 2013 on Chestnut Street, a high-crime neighborhood.

The goals included cutting down crime, improving relationships between police and adults and children in the neighborhood, giving youth a safe place and opportunities to participate in positive programs.

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Two years later, a gully across from the center that used to be a hang-out for unruly teens and adults is now an attractive park with groomed grounds, basketball courts and a jungle gym. The thugs are gone. On a recent afternoon, a group of boys played football while a mother and child sat on a park bench.

The PAL center is meeting its goals, police say. Today it offers:

* A drop-in center for students after school. Students get help with homework, activities and interact with police officers, other professionals and volunteers.

* Sports programs, including running and soccer.

* Seasonal activities, such as Halloween parties, Thanksgiving food baskets, Christmas shopping, Easter egg hunts and summer barbecues for neighborhood families.

* Free meals for children during the summer, and snacks after school during the school year.

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* Ice-skating in the winter, when a field is turned into an ice rink.

* Seven acres of land with the football field, walking paths, three basketball courts, one playground and a second, unfinished playground.

* A science-based cooking class for high school students, taught by Auburn police resource officer and chef Tom Poulin.

* A gardening program helped by Cooperative Extension master gardeners, who teach children how to grow fruits and vegetables.

Coming soon is a photography class for students, as well as the return of Friday night family movies, complete with popcorn.

The center’s budget — this year, hoped to be $50,000 — depends on fundraising. It covers two salaries, utilities and maintenance. Most adults who work with students are volunteers or student interns from local colleges. The newly hired program coordinator is Shawn Boyd.

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Materials come largely from donations from businesses like Kohl’s and other organizations, in-kind work from individuals and help from Auburn Public Works crews.

Inside the center, the large activity room features desks, a white board, computers and a corner with couches, chairs and books.

A large kitchen has restaurant-quality stoves and refrigerators. On a counter were jars of string beans, tomatoes and relishes that students recently canned. Two small rooms provide a pantry and classroom.

The center and the culinary arts program is making a difference in young lives, said Auburn police Department Executive Assistant Rita Beaudry, who serves on the PAL Center’s board of directors.

Because the Lewiston Regional Technical Center takes a limited number of Auburn students, Poulin and educators created the cooking-through-science program for Franklin Alternative School students. Food made in class goes home to needy students.

“We are a partner with Good Shepherd Food-Bank now,” Beaudry said. “It’s a win-win for these kids.”

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Last year, Poulin’s students catered for a human trafficking conference at the East Auburn Baptist Church. After lunch on the second day, the police chief and others stood up and applauded Poulin’s students.

Beaudry, dressed in a chef coat, said she won’t forget the surprised and grateful looks on students’ faces. She overheard one say they weren’t kids who get applause.

“We’re not the jocks,” the student said.

Auburn police officer Justin Richardson, who frequently drops in at the center, plays sports with the kids. From a law enforcement point of view, getting children in a high-crime neighborhood involved with healthy activities is a good thing, he said.

Some students used to only see police when they arrested someone in the neighborhood. With a frequent police presence, residents are quick to call police if they see something that concerns them. Residents are taking more ownership, Beaudry said. For students, spending time with police shows “we’re human” and there to help, Richardson said.

Crowell called for the PAL Center when he looked at years of data showed 28 percent of Auburn 35,000 police service calls came from the half-mile area of the PAL Center.

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“That’s not a big area,” Beaudry said.

With the center cleaning up so much land in the neighborhood, children participating in positive programs and police frequently dropping by, crime is down, Beaudry said.

She offered this example: Last winter, children who had never seen an ice rink put on skates “and tripped over themselves to go ice-skating,” Beaudry said. “They were laughing. It’s the laughter that you hear now as opposed to the sirens. It’s amazing.”

Lisa Robichaud, a criminal justice student at Central Maine Community College, was supervising a group of girls Wednesday at the center.

“I like being here,” she said. “Kids hang out and have fun.”

The center “makes a huge difference,” she said. “The kids have a safe place to go.”

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PAL Hop fundraiser Saturday night

LEWISTON — A PAL Hop reunion will be held from 7 to 11 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3, at Lewiston Memorial Armory.

Featured will be two legendary PAL Hop bands, the Moon Dawgs and the Rockin’ Recons, who were among the four original PAL Hop bands in 1964.

The event is hosted by the Auburn Police Activities League to support at-risk youths.

Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door, and available online at www.AuburnPAL.com; Auburn Police Department, 60 Court St.; Roger’s Haircutters, 94 Main St., Auburn; and Victor News, 59 Park St., Lewiston.

For more information, contact Liz Allen at the Auburn Police Department at 207-333-6650, ext. 2070 or email [email protected].

“It’s the laughter that you hear now as opposed to the sirens.” — Rita Beaudry, board member of Auburn Police Activity League


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