Twenty-four Ventura youths were honored at awards dinner. Photo by Aaron Kajumba
by Sheli Ellsworth
A strong police presence is usually associated with sirens, handcuffs and arrests. But on July 12, Ventura Police along with parents, sponsors and students crowded into the Ventura Beach Marriott for pasta, pizza and plaques. “We wanted to honor everyone who participates to make our Police Activity League(PAL) possible,” says Sal Flores who has worked hands-on with the afterschool boxing program for eight years. Flores also serves on the P.A.L. committee along with Omar Zapata, J. R. Luna, Ben Schuck, Joseph Hoss, Della Dowler, Jeanette Sanchez and Annette Garcia.
Ventura Police Chief Ken Corney was one of the founders of the P.A.L. program which was launched in 1998 and works to “ promote involvement between the youth, the police and the citizens of the City of Ventura by providing meaningful programs in the areas of sports, academics, education, and recreation,” according to their mission statement. Corney says he recalls arresting Flores and few other P.A.L. supporters back when he was a beat cop. Flores now sings praises for Corney, “You might have thought we couldn’t be friends, but he eventually became my friend and mentor. The whole board has the utmost respect for him.”
Youth who participated in the boxing program and have entered higher-education programs were awarded plaques for their perseverance and accomplishments. Twenty-four Ventura youths were honored including: Isabel Alvarez, Aldahair Benitez, Jackie Pinedo, Steve Pinedo, Fenix Valle, Lesley Alfaro, Gezell Contreras, Rosa Soto, Luis Grano, Kim Grano, Angelica Hernandez, Shayla Ortega, Julian Narvaez, Jacob Flores, Martha Lopez, Samantha Lopez, Max Rocha, Brenda Marcelino, Adriana Cardodo, Lisandra Hernandez, Veronica Ortega and Hugo Enrique. Several of the youth are already in four-year university programs, a few are starting local junior colleges. Enrique plans to become a policeman.
Flores, who found his own youth challenging, says, “Boxing is just a tool to get these kids off the streets and open to a more productive way of life. When you’re a kid with nothing to do, gang affiliation becomes a substitute for real purpose.” Many of the youth spoke about how important it was just to have a place to go after school and have someone to talk to. “Sometimes you just need someone to cry with you after a bad day,” one of the honorees said. They all agreed that the boxing program increased their confidence and self-worth.
Officers Eric Jackson and Misti Henderson were also honored for participating as mentors/coaches. The ceremony clearly touched Chief Corney’s emotions when he too received an appreciation plaque from Flores. Corney says, “I’m inspired by Sal’s accomplishments and his passion for the youth of our community and by officers like Jackson and Henderson who give their time to support P.A.L. programs.” Corney has served the department for 33 years and been the police chief for the last 10 years.