Detroit PAL expands into career prep with $750K grant

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — After decades of teaching life values through athletics, the Detroit Police Athletic League will expand into career training for adults looking for work in sports and entertainment, the result of a $750,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Detroit PAL’s “deep set of relationships” with the area’s four professional sports teams and entertainment venues and casinos, is why Kellogg believes Detroit PAL can be successful in its new mission, said Ed Egnatios, program officer at the foundation’s Detroit office.

“Sports businesses are already a part of Detroit PAL,” Egnatios said.

The program will start with about 35 participants a year, or just about 100 over its three-year term, said Detroit PAL CEO Tim Richey. Hiring will start in September or October.

Richey said the workforce program will provide part-time, 20 hours-a-week jobs across four sectors of sports and entertainment — media and communications, hospitality, facility management, and program management and administration. During the startup period, PAL will raise additional funds for the program, including through the sale of bricks, each engraved as specified by its buyer.

Detroit PAL’s new headquarters, under construction on the corner of Michigan and Trumbull which once served as the home of Tiger Stadium, will serve as the base for operations for the program. Some of the participants will work with outside employers and others will help run the PAL facility and help with PAL teams.

“Lots of kids grow up wanting to be NBA players or MLB players, but maybe aren’t aware of all the various careers that are in the fields of sports and entertainment,” Richey said.

But the workforce program isn’t just about the fulfillment of childhood dreams. It’s about meeting the needs of a career field that’s expected to grow in Detroit.

Work experience prep

A report by the Workforce Intelligence Network for Southeast Michigan, prepared for the Kellogg Foundation, identified retail and hospitality as an area of job growth in Metro Detroit.

Retail and hospitality “employs the most people and represents the largest share of the GDP in the region,” the report said, but also has a relatively low barrier to entry and high level of mobility for entry-level workers to grow in the field. The workforce program would prepare participants to get those entry-level jobs, and to build work experience that might allow them to pursue jobs beyond the entry level, according to the report.

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation dates to 1930, and gave its first grant in Detroit in 1933. Since then, it’s given some $320 million in grants in the city, including between $25 million to $30 million a year over the past seven years, said program officer Regina Bell.

The workforce program is an extension beyond what Detroit PAL has been for most of its 48-year history: a means to build youths by teaching the values of sports through on-field competition and mentoring, not only from coaches but from the police officers who volunteer.

A more traditional example of what Detroit PAL does is its Team Up program, created in summer 2015. In its initial iteration, Team Up matched 20 Detroit police officers —10 men and 10 women — with baseball and softball teams, 15 kids each.

The kids would be at a ball field on the first day of practice and a Detroit police officer would walk up and announce themselves as an assistant coach. The kids didn’t know that the officer and the head coach had already talked and orchestrated the whole thing.

“The kids were taken aback,” Richey said. “All they knew is that here’s another adult who cares about my life. Here’s someone I can call.”

‘They came to see me’

The experience that Kaironda Mitchell, a former Detroit PAL youth who became a Detroit cop and now Detroit PAL volunteer, demonstrates what hopes to become now that it has entered the field of adult career preparation.

Mitchell, 34, said her first memory of involvement with the Detroit Police Department was taking a tour of the 6th Precinct and its holding cells as a child.

“They showed us the jail and said: ‘This is where you don’t want to go,’ ” said Mitchell, now a Neighborhood Police Officer in the 3rd Precinct.

Mitchell was drawn to a career in law enforcement, at least in part to her memories of 1300 Beaubien, when Detroit PAL ran out of the then-Police Headquarters. She played basketball with a PAL team and remembers officers offering smiles, guidance and encouraging words. When she played hoops at Mackenzie High School, some of those officers would attend games and cheer her on.

“They weren’t there for crowd control; they came to see me,” Mitchell said. “That meant everything.”

Mitchell’s childhood experience with Detroit PAL helped pave the way to a career in policing more than a decade later. In September 2011, she joined the Detroit Police Department. Her story and its lesson — “never give up your hopes and aspirations for someone else” — is one she teaches the girls she works with at PAL.

“This generation is misguided and misled by what they see,” Mitchell said. “We need more mentors. We need more people to keep our kids out of trouble.”

With the creation of the workforce program, the hope is that today’s part-time jobs will result in full-time opportunities, possibly for or alongside the people whom participants will meet at the entry level.

“No one is preparing people to do this,” Egnatios said. “But the demand is there.”