DeLand’s Police Athletic League is looking to rebuild in 2021 with new programs to keep kids active.
While the dormant program was unable to start back up in earnest over the summer due to COVID-19, Director Willie Johnson has his sights set on February 2021 as the time to relaunch.
“I’ve always been kind of a mentor, as a coach,” he said. “You fill the role of whatever the kid might need.”
Johnson moved to DeLand in 1992 and began coaching sports shortly after he arrived. He said it’s something he loves doing.
Formerly a part of the Volusia Sheriff’s Office, the program was picked up by the DeLand Police Department in 2019.
When Johnson heard the league was looking for a director to get the ball rolling, he thought he would be a perfect fit, and a friend who worked with the DeLand Police Department suggested he apply. As a kid growing up in New Jersey, Johnson said, he was inspired by his mom, who looked out for all of the kids in their neighborhood.
“I never had a house key, because my house was never locked. Kids came and went as they pleased. She never turned a kid down,” he said. “I feel, and I’m quite sure, that if you ever met anybody from my neighborhood, they would say the same.”
The programs Johnson is looking to bring back include activities like basketball, tennis, golf and volleyball. But Johnson also wants to bring some less conventional programs to the community as well, including fishing, photography and cooking.
He said for a program like photography, the goal will be to let kids take photos and, at the end of the program, display them in an art show for the community.
Another program he’s looking to reintroduce is the cycling program. The program, which was operated in the past as a partnership between PAL and JC’s Bikes & Boards, teaches kids the basics of bicycle riding and maintenance. At the end of the program, the kids get to keep the bikes they’ve worked on.
“I want to get away from the traditional football-basketball mentality and offer some new ideas and programs to be a part of,” Johnson said.
He said the cooking program is one he especially wants to offer, due to his own love of cooking. That program, as well as some of the mentoring programs, will be headed up by Dr. Michelle Brown, a former police officer with a doctorate in industrial and organizational psychology.
Brown runs Lead Ladies Inc., a nonprofit with a goal of reducing recidivism and elevating self-love among young ladies ages 13 to 18.
Lead Ladies will be pairing with PAL to offer the cooking program, as well as mentoring programs. Brown said she is looking forward to working with PAL once COVID-19 restrictions allow them to move their online programs back to in-person.
Most of the sports programs currently offered by PAL had to be shut down due to COVID-19. Johnson said the only program the group was able to continue through the summer was golf, because of how easy it is to socially distance.
He said he is optimistic that by February he will be able to put together programs that will be safe and fun for kids.
“It’s been challenging, but it’s a lot of fun, and I enjoy it,” Johnson said. “This job was made for me. I hope I make the city of DeLand proud.”
For more information, or to get involved, contact Willie Johnson by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.