PAL’s prestigious pair

Henrico police officers Michelle Harper (left) and Kenny Ragland (right) celebrated with Aubrey Temple and Johnny Newman at the PAL awards in Florida.
If there was any doubt that Henrico County has made its mark on the national map, it was dispelled May 24 in Orlando, Florida, when leaders of Henrico PAL came home with two of the four national awards presented at the National Police Athletic League awards ceremony.

Selected from hundreds of candidates across the country, Youth Leadership Council President Aubrey Temple and Henrico PAL board member Johnny Newman were recognized, respectively, as the National Police Athletic League’s 2011 “Male Youth of the Year” and “Male Volunteer of the Year.”

The awards ceremony was attended by approximately 200 police and PAL representatives from throughout the United States and the Virgin Islands, and featured NFL great and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown as keynote speaker.

Newman, who played basketball at University of Richmond and in the NBA, was a founding board member for Henrico PAL and has been instrumental in the organization of the Johnny Newman basketball camp that PAL hosts each summer.

Through his efforts, PAL has been able to offer such programs as open gym, a Drop Everything and Read Program, golf tournament, Thanksgiving food giveaways, mentoring programs and dance/step team competitions to help further PAL’s mission of reducing juvenile crime.

In addition to helping to serve more than 7,000 youth since Henrico PAL’s inception, Newman also regularly visits area middle schools and high schools making motivational speeches and urging students to stay in school and strive to excel.

A native of Danville, Newman honed his skills at the YMCA as a child -- after a staffer caught him repeatedly sneaking in and offered him a membership in exchange for referee duties. Those YMCA experiences led him to his professional career, as well as inspiring a lifelong commitment to and belief in the value of community centers and mentoring organizations such as PAL.

“There were coaches that took me in, saw that I had potential with sports,” Newman once said. “And they would volunteer with me, take me in, open up the gym, and take me on trips.”

Learning to lead
Temple, a stand-out scholar athlete at Highland Springs H.S., started out as a 14-year-old camper during Henrico PAL’s first summer camp and was invited to become an assistant counselor the following summer.

As he reflected recently on his PAL experiences, Temple told a story similar to Newman’s regarding PAL’s role in opening doors for him.

“I guess Sgt. [Kenny] Ragland saw something in me,” he said of the Henrico PAL director who took him on as counselor. “He saw I was a good kid; I didn’t get in trouble, or get involved in all the drama.”

That’s not to say, however, that transitioning to counselor was devoid of challenges.

“I had to watch the kids, make sure they stayed in line, keep them safe,” Temple said, ticking off some of his early duties. “Making sure they’re not lost, making sure they’re not hurt, keeping them quiet when something needed to be said.”

But while the work had its moments, Temple said it was also rewarding “knowing I was making a difference, and influencing [the campers]. Seeing them play together, and making friends. It felt good inside when I helped them.”

After a summer as an assistant counselor, Temple got involved with PAL’s fledgling Youth Leadership Council [YLC] and became its first president.

Although he’d held leadership positions on the football team, and was considered a leader at school because of his excellent grades and work with the student council, leading YLC was another story, he said.

As a co-captain on the football team, he could lead by example, said Temple; but as head of YLC, he had to learn about parliamentary procedure and conduct meetings.

Even harder, he added, was learning to project his voice.

“My voice is naturally low, and I feel like I have to scream when I’m speaking [in front of a group],” he said.

‘All I could give was time’
Although Temple is grateful for the PAL award – and proud that Henrico came home with two -- he said he would have been involved with PAL whether or not he received recognition.

“Without any resources, with no money or connections, all I could give was my own time,” he said. “So I volunteered wherever I could.”

Although Temple’s award included a $2500 scholarship, he plans to begin engineering studies at Duke University in the fall – so a job that puts money in the bank is his first priority this summer.

“But I’ll definitely try and come to a few PAL events,” he said. “I enjoy being around the counselors and the police officers; they’re all friendly and warm-hearted.”

Among other experiences he has enjoyed as a result of PAL, he said, is running into former campers and their parents out in the community. And he admits to being fascinated by the behavior of the younger children at camp, and the changes he has seen in campers in just four years with the organization.

“At seven, eight, nine years old they’re learning to do what we did at 13 and 14,” he said, shaking his head incredulously. “And they all have cell phones and iPods.”

Observing the behavior of the youngsters, he added, has enabled him to view things from a more adult perspective, and to forge a closer relationship with the staff, volunteers and Henrico police officers who work with PAL.

“We have to deal with those crazy kids,” he said with a grin. “It’s bonding!”
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