Preventing violence by building trust: UCPD brings PAL program to South Side YMCA
Four days a week at the South Side YMCA, University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) Officer Tawrence Walton facilitates sports and arts activities, supervises volunteer projects, provides homework help, and serves as a trusted grownup that kids can talk to about their lives.
Part of a collaborative effort between the South Side Y and UCPD to bring the Police Athletic/Activities League (PAL) program to neighborhood kids, Walton’s mentorship aims to foster trust and honest dialogue between local residents and law enforcement.
For Walton, who grew up in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood, leading the PAL program at the South Side Y isn’t just part of his job—it’s a chance to relate, listen, and share some wisdom with youth whose childhood experiences mirror his.
“Some kids are pretty reserved at first, but as we get to know each other, those walls come down,” he said of the South Side Y’s PAL program participants. “They know I’m a kid from the same place they’re from, not just a face showing up here. And every kid in the program has a story.”
According to Kenne’quia Howell, Executive Director at the South Side YMCA and a member of UCPD’s PAL Advisory Board, Officer Walton’s presence helps address and actively mend the disconnect civilians may feel towards law enforcement.
“The trust our community places in us is something we do not take lightly,” Howell said. “We’ve talked often with Officer Walton and his commander about there not being great relations between the African American community and the police—on both ends. The Y takes a community-minded approach to wellness, and Officer Walton and UCPD take the same approach. They want to create change, and that’s our mission, too.”
Violence prevention is one of the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago’s mission anchors, and initiatives like the PAL program at the South Side Y are a key component of the work we do to strengthen Chicagoland’s children, families, and communities. By providing safe, healthy spaces for local residents to gather and form supportive relationships with fellow community members, we aim to stop the cycle of violence wherever it exists in our neighborhoods.
Partnerships like the one the South Side Y shares with Officer Walton and the UCPD demonstrate how violence prevention, at its best, can be restorative—and even joyful.
Howell put it succinctly: “Because Officer Walton is who he is—bubbly and bright and funny—he showed the kids how to see police officers differently, as human beings with families and senses of humor.”