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News / Clark County News

Police Activities League of Southwest Washington strives to keep kids on positive path

By Jerzy Shedlock, Columbian Breaking News Reporter
Published: December 30, 2019, 8:24pm
3 Photos
Jenny Thompson, executive director of the Police Activities League of Southwest Washington, from left, helps organize donations for families at Discovery Middle School with Officer Danielle Wass, Lt. Doug Luse and Walmart Neighborhood Market Assistant Manager Leanne Younger before Christmas. Drew Schoening, in black shirt, and David Mack of Walmart Neighborhood Market also helped. The &quot;essentials drive&quot; is one of several holiday events Thompson organizes.
Jenny Thompson, executive director of the Police Activities League of Southwest Washington, from left, helps organize donations for families at Discovery Middle School with Officer Danielle Wass, Lt. Doug Luse and Walmart Neighborhood Market Assistant Manager Leanne Younger before Christmas. Drew Schoening, in black shirt, and David Mack of Walmart Neighborhood Market also helped. The "essentials drive" is one of several holiday events Thompson organizes. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

When boxes filled with toiletries, cleaning supplies and shelf-stable foods filled the space on two tables in an office at Discovery Middle School in Vancouver, volunteers started piling the donations on the floor.

The household items were delivered by members of the Police Activities League of Southwest Washington and Grand Boulevard Walmart employees. It wasn’t the first time the nonprofit and store teamed up to provide essentials for families in need.

“We have a lot of organizations that reach out to us, but the PAL in particular is a great partnership,” said Amalia Franco, family-community resource center coordinator at the school. “We make sure the kids have everything they need to succeed at school.”

Coordinating the whole affair at Discovery was Jenny Thompson, executive director of the police activities league. The “essentials drive” was one of several events she planned during the holiday season, but they are not the main purpose of the activities league.

The league is a nonprofit that works to build positive relationships between law enforcement and kids through community-based recreational and educational programs. Thompson has gained the support of eight Clark County agencies whose officers and deputies have been recruited to support its mission.

She runs the show from an office tucked away in the basement of the Vancouver Police Department headquarters on Evergreen Boulevard. In mid-December, her office was cluttered with holiday decorations and boxes full of colorful PAL T-shirts. Enlarged, black-and-white images of smiling police and kids adorned the walls around Thompson’s cubicle.

Thompson originally wanted to be a youth pastor but decided against it in college. She worked in the private sector after graduation before realizing she missed mentoring kids. So, she served a year with AmeriCorps in Colorado, helping foster youth who were aging out of the system.

“I was doing things like teaching independent life skills, managing a small caseload with one-on-one work and saw that this is what I need to be doing – working with teens,” Thompson said.

Her next job was a stint at the Boys and Girls Club of Southwest Washington, where she started their college preparatory program, and discovered her best fit would probably be nonprofit administration. Fast forward to 2015 when, with an MBA nearly in hand, Thompson was hired at the league.

The nonprofit ended up being the perfect choice, she said. Thompson doesn’t have strong family ties to law enforcement, but she does have ties to the military. However, her main reason for wanting to join PAL was its mission of mentorship.

Thompson worked to change the name of the nonprofit from PAL of Vancouver to PAL of Southwest Washington. It was a small but important change given that the league hopes to continue spreading its reach. The Vancouver Police Department and the Clark County Sheriff’s Office are, of course, the biggest partners, but its collaborators include the Ridgefield, Battle Ground, Camas and Washougal police departments, among others.

The smaller police departments are just beginning to get involved in PAL programs, and their involvement is expected to grow in 2020, Thompson said.

“Most of these relationships beyond the two big agencies, we almost didn’t have to ask. They came to us, wanting to be involved,” she said.

That involvement takes many forms, such as the essentials drive, during which Walmart handed over $1,500 of merchandise to Discovery Middle School. The league also teamed up with KGW-TV to distribute more than 100 holiday gifts.

The league connects officers with teens who are in or have already gone through the county’s juvenile court system, although the interactions aren’t limited to kids with such a background. Thompson and her colleagues recently put together a book fair for those kids and provided them with wish lists of reading materials, as well as an opportunity to give gifts to their siblings and parents. Between 200 and 300 books were distributed.

“We want them to have a good Christmas, keep them on a positive path,” Thompson said.

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Thompson said numerous studies have shown in various ways that if a young person has a positive adult influence outside of their family, they are more likely to graduate from high school and succeed later in life.

Vancouver Police Department Lt. Doug Luse, one of several officers who helped deliver the goods to Discovery Middle School, has participated in the league for 10 years. The interaction with the kids through the league is imperative, Luse said.

“Anytime we can interact on the same level, it’s a good thing,” Luse said. “Kids run into (police) in certain situations that aren’t always the best. This is something much better, a whole other level of communication.”

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Columbian Breaking News Reporter