The Hartford Police Athletic League encourages young people in the city to reach their potential through mentoring, education and athletics. This year the league is planning a major renovation to serve more youth.
Jordan Spruille wants to work in law enforcement. And he says a big reason for that was his experience as a young man in the Hartford Police Athletic League.
“The only way you can really make a difference is being within,” Spruille said. “So it’s inspired me to maybe want to change my community. Only way you can do that is being in the mix, show people that not all cops are bad people.”
Spruille volunteers at the league’s facility, where young people play basketball, learn to box and take part in after-school activities each day.
The organization is hoping the renovation will help it reach more young people. And one big part of the league’s success is its close working relationship with the Hartford Police Department.
“Our No. 1 thing is the police involvement,” said Jon Esmail, director of programming.
To the kids, Esmail goes by “Coach Esh.”
“Those relationships are really, really strained in a lot of cities and a lot of communities,” he explains. “Our kids come in every single day and have positive interactions with police officers. What separates us is the fact that we have continuous police involvement in our program.”
For Esmail, someone like Jordan Spruille perfectly exemplifies that; he grew up in the Hartford PAL organization and decided to pursue his own career in law enforcement. He’s also an EMT and has served in the military.
“When we started and developed the nonprofit side, Jordan helped run the first camp that we had over at Noah Webster about five or six years ago,” Esmail said. “We’ve opened a lot of kids’ eyes to potential work in law enforcement. They see that they can make a good life and they can serve their community and do positive things and kind of break the stigma of what it is to be a police officer of color.”
Spruille returns the compliment. He says Esmail is one of the reasons he wanted to join the force.
“It’s gotta be my man Coach Esh, man, like -- he’s 6-foot-5, one of the tallest dudes, you come into the room, you see him, he looks intimidating, but no, like -- he definitely builds a great bond with the kids,” said Spruille. “Kids love him. Always has a smile on his face. I don’t know where this program would be today without Coach Esh, man.”
The league’s Williams Street location is about to undergo a major $7.5 million renovation, which could increase the number of young people served by more than 20%.
“The reason that we want to renovate is to open up more space so that we can accept more kids into our programming,” said David Jorgensen, the league’s chairman. “Right now we are limited by our resources and by our space, and we do have a waiting list which we would like to eliminate and be able to offer every kid who wants to be a part of PAL and their families that opportunity -- and for that we need the space.”
To him, serving more kids means building community.
“To be able to protect the kids in the community and build positive relationships -- to be able to empower the youth of Hartford to reach their greatest potential,” said Jorgensen. “But within that it’s to give kids access to tutoring and homework, athletics, music, arts, anything that they kind of find a passion for, we try to build a program for.”