Full circle

TyVaughn Eldridge participated in the Henrico Athletic League as a youngster. Now he is giving back to the organization as a lead counselor.

In only eight years of existence, Henrico Police Athletic League (PAL) has grown from a single, small after-school program to a series of sports camps, summer camps, recreational and after-school programs serving several hundred children each year.

Four years ago, Henrico PAL also won national recognition as Aubrey Temple of the Youth Leadership Council and board member Johnny Newman were honored as "Male Youth of the Year" and "Male Volunteer of the Year" at the national conference.

But as proud as PAL staff members and supporters are of the organization's growth and national reputation, they are quick to point out that success at PAL is measured not simply by awards or numbers served, but by fulfilling the mission: helping young children grow into successful adults as they build positive relationships with law enforcement officers.

And no one can speak to that success as well as TyVaughn Eldridge, Henrico PAL's first "alumnus" to return as a summer camp counselor.

Now a junior at Old Dominion University, Eldridge got his introduction to PAL as a 12-year-old attending the first summer camp in 2008.

"My mom signed me up because I loved sports, and I needed somewhere to go for the summer while she was at work," he recalls.

After that first summer experience, Eldridge and his mother were both sold on the organization. Among his favorite memories are the Monday afternoons sessions known as “PAL around,” when children in the camp got to choose the activity. "Most of the time, of course, we picked Kings Dominion," he says, "and had a blast."

He also reaped long-term athletic benefits, Eldridge adds, such as the opportunity to improve his skills in a favorite sport. "Growing up, I wasn’t the best baseball player," he says, "but I loved the game." After attending a Tuckahoe Little League baseball clinic with PAL, Eldridge remembers becoming a much better player, and eventually went on to play in high school.

"I credit PAL," he says, "for giving me the opportunity to learn more about the game that other programs didn’t give me."

But when he looks back at his years with PAL, Eldridge says the best part of all was the friendships he built at the camps. "Back then," he says, "I never would have known that I would still have a close relationship with several of the other campers."

Unlimited potential
As a retired Henrico police officer and now the executive director of Henrico PAL, Kenneth Ragland has watched Eldridge grow up in the program and acquire skills that go far beyond athletic ability.

"It was very apparent early on," Ragland says, "that TyVaughn was a youth with unlimited potential who would flourish in PAL [and benefit from] the positive role models in the program."

With his well-mannered ways and quiet leadership, Ragland says, as well as his academic achievements and willingness to help others, Eldridge was an easy pick for the first Henrico PAL Youth of the Year award in 2009. Eldridge went to join PAL's fledgling Youth Leadership Council and serve as its first sergeant at arms.

In addition, Ragland points out, Eldridge took the initiative "immediately upon aging out of summer camp" and asked to volunteer as a youth counselor.

As a full-time camp counselor this summer, Eldridge did not get to play the way he once did as a 12-year-old. But he contends that he had plenty of fun just the same – and enjoyed rewards that he never experienced as a camper.

"PAL does a great job scheduling trips that kids will not only have fun with, but also learn from," Eldridge says. "I love being able to watch kids have fun while also learning how to become young adults."

It was a rare day when he was tired or unexcited about the job, says Eldridge -- and only because he'd spent long hours in the summer sun with an energetic group of youngsters.

He always has energy, however, for his favorite annual field trip to Water Country USA.

"I love it because I love being in water," Eldridge says. "But best of all, PAL gives everyone food tickets – and the food there is awesome."

‘PAL got through to me’
Having volunteered over several years, Eldridge also says he has discovered the joy of watching his young charges change over time – such as two campers he noticed this summer who started in the program as youngsters. "It amazes me," he says, "how much they’ve grown and matured so fast throughout the years."

Among other rewards of being a counselor, he says, are the words of encouragement he gets from his PAL mentors such as Ragland and Officer Michelle Sheehan and the occasional positive feedback from an appreciative parent.

What's more, Eldridge says, PAL has had an influence in his choice of major: criminal justice.

"Growing up," he says, "I always thought it was best for me to stay as far away from police officers as possible – because I figured if you were talking to one, you most likely were in trouble for something.

"However, the PAL program taught me that wasn’t always the case."

Ragland had a similar experience to Eldridge's as a youngster, coming from a single-parent home and benefiting from having police officers as mentors. So it doesn't surprise him that PAL has sparked Eldridge's interest in a related career choice – or that Eldridge has excelled as he travels the path to that career.

"I can’t say enough about TyVaughn," Ragland says. "He is a byproduct of what the Henrico Police Athletic League is all about."

"I wouldn’t trade my experiences with PAL for any other organization," echoes Eldridge. "Everyone knows the mission of PAL is to establish relationships with police officers and youth.

"And I must definitely say that mission got through to me."
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Challenger Day will get students with disabilities onto the field


Students from 22 Henrico County elementary schools will take to the baseball field Oct. 18 and learn how to field, hit and run the bases. The students will take part in Challenger Day, an annual event at the Tuckahoe Park Baseball Complex that introduces students with significant disabilities to the fundamentals of baseball. The students will also enjoy games, an art project, roaming mascots and a picnic lunch. > Read more.

Business in brief


Eisenman & Associates, Inc. employee Tracie Grady recently was named the 2017 Virginia Business Meeting Planner of the Year. Grady was chosen by a committee of industry leaders among 19 nominees. The award is a partnership between Virginia Business magazine and the Virginia Society of Association Executives. Its goal is to recognize the unsung hero of the association, non-profit, and business world, the professional meeting planner. Grady works with clients in a number of areas, including membership management, publication design, membership directories and convention/tradeshow programs. She has worked in the association industry, primarily focused on meeting planning, for more than 20 years. She is a graduate of VCU. Eisenman & Associates, Inc. is an association management and meetings consulting company. > Read more.

Lakewood to break ground on $64M expansion


A senior community in Henrico's Far West End is planning a massive expansion project.

Lakewood, located on Lauderdale Drive, will break ground on the project Oct. 19 during a celebration that also will commemorate the community's 40th anniversary. > Read more.

Henrico to hold Oct. 19 workshop on Route 5 Corridor/Marion Hill Study


The Henrico County Planning Department will hold a workshop Thursday, Oct. 19 for residents and other members of the public to provide additional input for a study of the Route 5 corridor and Marion Hill areas.

The workshop will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at John Rolfe Middle School, 6901 Messer Road. The meeting will include an overview of community input received so far and an explanation of how it is reflected in the study’s draft goals and objectives. > Read more.

Nominations open for REB awards for principals


Nominations are open for the 2017-18 REB Awards for Distinguished Educational Leadership, The Community Foundation’s yearly awards that identify, recognize and support leadership excellence in the Richmond area.

Honorees receive an unrestricted $7,500 cash grant, and $7,500 to be used for school initiatives. Nominees can be principals from public schools in Henrico, Chesterfield and Hanover counties and the city of Richmond who have served in their current positions for at least three years. > Read more.

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The annual Harvest Event and Brunswick Stew Sale at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, 10627 Patterson Ave., will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Vendors will be selling Christmas gifts, crafts, jewelry and more. There will also be a bake sale and St. Bart’s Café. Canned goods will be collected for the Central Virginia Food Bank. The Proclamation Stew Crew will be selling quarts of Brunswick Stew for $9 per quart. Advance orders are recommended and can be placed online at http://www.stbartsrichmond.org. Stew will be available for pickup from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Full text

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