As the designated “snack mom,” Sondra Thomas has spent the past five years distributing goodies while watching her son play for the Aiken Department of Public Safety’s Police Athletic League football team.
“It has been a wonderful experience,” she said. “I love the way (the officers) interact with the kids. They’re great role models.”
A grant the department received from National PAL in 2006 allowed it to create a program for kids who would not normally have the chance to play in organized team sports. The grant expired this year.
On Friday evening, almost 300 people showed up to participate in the inaugural Blue Night Run, which raised enough money to fund the program for the year, Sgt. Jake Mahoney said. The run included a 1-mile Fun Run and a 5K run and walk.
“We are very pleased with the turnout,” he said. “We knew we would have the support of this community, and it’s been fantastic.”
The program develops teams in football, cheerleading, basketball and track for age 7 to high school; the teams are free and open to anyone, Mahoney said. They compete against local teams and have sent children to compete on a national level.
One athlete, Ebony Smith, of Aiken, ran track for PAL and received a full scholarship to Claflin University this fall, Mahoney said.
“We want to build self-esteem, confidence and leadership through this program as well,” he said. “We feel we can do that through these sports.”
Mahoney said officers are involved at different levels, from coaching to cheering the kids on from the sideline.
JamesJackson, the winner of the 5K, is a recent college graduate. Jackson said he is back in town to help coach Aiken High School’s cross-country team and will be going back to graduate school after that.
Although Jackson did not go through the PAL program, he said it was a great organization that was helping his hometown. Thomas agreed.
“It’s an awesome organization that helps kids,” Thomas said.