Positive Influence

Middle school … hallway high-fives, the squeaks of rubber-soled tennis shoes, the metallic slams of locker doors.

But after school, life at East Garner Magnet Middle School also includes a voluntary weekly gathering of 10 students with local police officers.

“Raise your hand if you got in trouble this week, as in ISS (in-school suspension) or detention,” said Sgt. Mike McIver; four young hands slowly rise.

“You’re better than that,” McIver insisted. “I’m not going to give up on you, but I will be tough on you. I believe in every one of you, and as long as you try, you have a place here.”

Guys playing football

“Here” is PAAL, the Garner Police Department’s Police Athletics/Activities League. The program kicked off in fall 2010 in this unique partnership with East Garner Middle, with the support of teachers and Principal Cathy Williams.

The club is among 400 nationally recognized chapters, and the first in Wake County. PAAL’s mission is to influence youth for good, for their benefit and that of the entire community.
“Peer pressure can get the best of our youth; we offer positive peer pressure,” said McIver, PAAL program director for the Garner Police Department, led by Chief Brandon Zuidema.

“This is something we really believe in.”

PAAL works to boost youth achievement while improving police-community relationships and reducing delinquency. From homework help to baking cookies and flag football, officers and volunteers teach life skills such as accountability, teamwork, decision making and goal setting.

In this meeting, “Mr. Mike” reviews the Code of Ethics students agreed to abide by when they became part of PAAL. Now quiet and serious, they discuss responsibility and consequences, and the tough week some have experienced.

The sharing leads to statements such as, “I’ve been bullied,” “I’m having trouble with a teacher,” and “Sometimes I feel pushed over the edge.”

“This has to do with your whole life,” McIver said. “Things happen — so what are ways we can control our emotions?”

PAAL is making a difference.

“One of our kids made the school’s basketball team. I’m tickled, because that means he’s getting better grades. I go watch him play,” McIver said. “Another’s made the A-B honor roll.”
“Garner is a healthy community,” noted PAAL Advisory Board President Tim Montgomery, a juvenile court counselor by profession. “This is not a reaction to crime, but a proactive way to help kids, and reduce or impact delinquency. It’s about positive relationships and the impact of mentoring.”

PAAL is a free program open to any interested boy or girl with Garner ties. At East Garner Middle, participants are identified by school staff and counselors.

“These are kids who are at-risk behaviorally, in failing grades or through socioeconomic factors,” McIver said. He makes in-home visits with identified student families to ensure an atmosphere that reinforces PAAL lessons.

New in 2012 is the Avery Street Recreation Center PAAL Club, modeled after the East Garner Middle program and incorporating volunteers from Garner Police and Fire Departments.
Plans call for the formation of a competitive travel baseball/softball program this year, for youth who don’t have the opportunity to play town ball. Garner’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department will partner to provide field space.

And PAAL will soon select a team of Garner high-schoolers to form a Youth Leadership Council to take part in community projects, interact with local government and attend a youth training conference in Washington, D.C.

Dana Clay, administrative and accreditation manager for the Garner Police Department, will lead the council. She sees PAAL as a way to expand students’ support beyond the nuclear family.

“We certainly understand the benefits of developing the character of students,” she said.

“Young leaders get more involved in their local governments and community, in giving back. That’s citizenship. These programs will benefit students, as they see people volunteering to help them achieve personal success.”

PAAL is a 501(c)3 organization, currently operating on local donations as the department seeks grants and additional community partnerships. Programming will grow as funding allows. Eventually, McIver hopes to have a PAAL center in Garner.

For now, the tough after-school discussion is followed by a game of “no trash talk” flag football. On the field students, officers and teachers huddle over plays, and ham it up for a team photo.

“That was great!” and “Good job!” the youth call to each other between plays.

Chief Zuidema says the department and other volunteers are committed to helping youth and Garner via PAAL.

“Yes, we fight crime, but we’re also the community’s police department,” Zuidema said. “The vision of PAAL is to reach kids not just one time, but to stay with them long term. We want to continue to be an influence and be a part of their lives.

“And 10 years from now, I may hire our first PAAL kid as an officer — how great would that be?”

For more information on PAAL, visit http://www.garnernc.gov/Departments/Police/Default.aspx.


Lively, committed and making a difference — the Garner Police Department Auxiliary is all of the above.

Social but serious: Auxiliary members prep for a department-wide dinner. Since its inception one year ago, the GPDA has hosted monthly meals for the department, sponsored an Officer of the Month project; partnered with the local Civitan Club on a community blood drive; and assisted with the Police Department’s annual Shop with a Cop program, with plans to follow those children year round to celebrate birthdays, provide back-to-school supplies and more.

While the auxiliary exists to serve as a support system for police officers’ families, organizers say it’s not a “girls’ night out” for the spouses of Garner’s finest.

“We want to be social and benefit the department, but also the community,” said Spring Zuidema, president of the auxiliary and wife of Police Chief Brandon Zuidema. “We’ve stuck to that three-prong philosophy. We are social, but we’re serious too.”

In its largest project to date, the auxiliary organized the first-ever Police Officers’ Ball last  June, even carrying out its own catering. The event raised $2,000, used in part to benefit the Hayes House, a local shelter for victims of domestic violence.

Those funds, along with officers’ volunteer labor, donated flooring and local merchant discounts on materials, resulted in a complete renovation of the Hayes House bathroom in just three days.

The ball will become an annual June event in Garner, raising funds for auxiliary projects to benefit the police department and the community.

The families of Garner’s 64-member police force face special challenges, including everyday dinners and holidays without dad. Even the chief takes shifts on the street.

Married since 1993 and parents to two daughters, the Zuidemas have never known another way of family life. Sharing these experiences, Zuidema says, are what makes the GPDA work.
“It’s part of what makes the group strong, the ties between women who understand,” she said. “It’s important to offer — and to take — support.”

Karen Copeland, vice president of the auxiliary and wife of Deputy Chief Eric Copeland, said, “This is making a huge difference. We needed this, and we’ve been able to do a lot in the past year.”

From 20-somethings just marrying into the police department family to those with teenage children or beyond, the women say the auxiliary’s variety of ages equals good advice to share. Daughters are also welcome at GPDA events, promoting bonding between the younger set too.

“Our husbands may be in different phases of their police careers, but we all understand. It creates an atmosphere of belonging,” Zuidema said. “And I feel so much more connected to what Brandon does now.”

“The Garner Police Department is already a strong family. The auxiliary increases that sense of family and involvement of officers’ families with each other,” said Chief Zuidema.

“Personally, it’s rewarding that my wife has stepped up. Professionally the groups support each other, and the police department in turn helps the community. It’s a fantastic resource for us.”

For more information on the Garner Police Department Auxiliary, visit garnerpdauxiliary.com.

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