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Westmorland PAL: Community volunteers dedicate hours to keep program alive

February 19, 2001|By MARIO RENTERÍA, Staff Writer

WESTMORLAND — While this city of about 2,500 residents might be the smallest city in the Imperial Valley, its dedication to providing activities for youth can match any city.

The Westmorland Police Activities League is the organization that has been providing most of the activities to youth in this city.

While PAL is a police-affiliated organization, Westmorland doesn't exactly have the funds or manpower to allocate a police officer strictly to the program, so community volunteers have dedicated time and effort to running the program.

Sonia Castañeda, PAL secretary, is one of those volunteers.

She said she started volunteering with the program because of her children, Angel, 14, Alejandro, 11, and Aaron, 5.

"My children were reaching the age where they need activities," she said.

Castañeda said her friend Maria Rodriguez, now PAL vice president, joined the PAL program in 1998, preceding Castañeda's work with organizing PAL. Mayra Franco, chief financial officer for PAL, came aboard later.


Castañeda said City Councilman Rumaldo Marquez had a meeting with the community to see how many individuals would be interested in helping with the program.

Few volunteered but many thought a PAL was a good idea. People started to help as the program progressed.

Westmorland PAL is a member of California PAL.

The state PAL office provides workshops and trips to all its members. All members must attend at least one workshop or field trip every year.

Westmorland PAL had been operating out of the city's youth hall, which was supposed to have been renovated in September, but that project has been delayed. Castañeda said the renovation might start at the end of this month.

The PAL program is working out of a donated apartment by Redondo Apartment complex in the 300 block of North G. Street.

"This just goes to show how much positive support from the community we've received," said Castañeda.

She said after the renovation is done, PAL officials are hoping to have the center open from noon to 8 p.m. every day for students from kindergarten to high school.

"I do this because I know what it's like to not have a place to go, to not have any activities, to not have money to participate in out-of-town activities," Castañeda said.

"I know what the streets can do to you," she added.

"Your options are very limited here," Westmorland Police Chief Fred Beltran said of the city.

"This organization is working as a team and the desire has kept us going and also the kids," said Beltran.

Castañeda said, "I'd like to protect every kid from the harsh reality but I also want them to know that there's something actually more than just Westmorland."

Castañeda praised the hard work and dedication of the PAL board members, PAL Recreation Director Gustavo Sanchez, Westmorland school and city officials and the City Hall staff.

The PAL program provides soccer, basketball and flag football programs.

The next PAL field trip will be the "Sacramento Experience," from March 31 to April 15 in which six youths will be taken to workshops and events in the state capital. Two of the youths are Westmorland PAL car show queen Alma Sanchez, 14, and her runner-up, Yesenia Loroña, 13. The car show was on Thanksgiving weekend.

A big accomplishment, Castañeda and Beltran agree, was Westmorland PAL's flag football coed team, in which kids ages 12-14 played an exhibition game against the Titans, a flag-football team from El Centro, during halftime at a San Diego Chargers NFL game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Christmas Eve.

"We just want to make a great difference in every kids' life," said Castañeda as Beltran agreed.

Staff Writer Mario Rentería can be reached at 370-8549.

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