(This item was submitted by Bob Connolly, Manager of the Pt. Richmond Office of Mechanics Bank.)
About five years ago, I attended a Richmond Police Activities League (RPAL) luncheon. It’s a nonprofit organization that was formed to provide a positive alternative to gangs and the streets for kids between 5 and 18 years of age. There are PALs throughout California, but few that need it more than Richmond. RPAL works with over 3,000 kids annually, using police officers, local business leaders and community volunteers as positive role models and activity leaders.
Our bank has supported RPAL for many years—the building RPAL occupies was donated by the bank—but what really hooked me was the holiday program they highlighted at the luncheon. I signed up as a volunteer that day.
For the next two years I joined Richmond police officers and other volunteers on Christmas morning, delivering toys to needy families. Many of these families aren’t able to afford gifts, so it was really satisfying to see their faces light up when we arrived.
More recently, RPAL has created a program called “Shop With a Cop.” On the Saturday before Christmas, kids who participate in RPAL activities all year and do well in school are invited to a pancake breakfast. There they are matched up with community volunteers and police officers, picked up in limousines and taken to the Richmond Target Store where they receive a $100 gift card they can use for a 45-minute shopping spree. At the checkout counter, Target kicks in an additional $10 and waives the sales tax. For some of these kids it’s the first time they’ve ever had money they can spend any way they want. I was surprised how many of them will use most of it to buy presents for their families.
One reason I enjoy volunteering with RPAL is that they make a big impact on kids in Richmond, day in and day out. In their building on McDonald Ave they have a recording studio, computer center and even a bike repair shop. Upstairs is a boxing ring where kids can take lessons, and a basketball court that hosts midnight games. RPAL has created a safe environment, where kids can escape local gangs and chaos, whether it’s just to do their homework, play basketball, or learn how to use a computer.
I’ve always enjoyed working with kids—I used to be a Big Brother — and RPAL is 100% kid-oriented. You really know these kids need you and need RPAL. Some of them will practically glue themselves on to you when you walk in the door. It’s a good feeling to be involved in an organization that makes a difference, every day.
There are Police Activity Leagues throughout the Bay Area and California and if you are ready to volunteer in one of them, you can go to www.calpal.org for more information. In the East Bay, you'll find PALs in Concord, Berkeley, Oakland, Albany, and Antioch, among other cities. If you know you want to volunteer in Richmondy, visit www.rpal.org or call 510.621.1221.
(The Mechanics of Volunteering is written by employees of Mechanics Bank to show readers how easy and rewarding it is to volunteer in our community. If you’re with a nonprofit that is looking for additional volunteers, go to www.mechanicsbankcares.com where we’ll try to match your needs with our
employee volunteers. If you have questions for Bob or others at Mechanics Bank, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.