GROTON — Hey, kids! Got time on your hands?
Always complaining to your parents that there’s nothing to do? Getting tired of those repetitious computer games?
Then there’s good news for you! Through the courtesy of a group of volunteers, local businessmen and members of the Police and Fire departments, there’s a new group in town geared especially to you.
Called the Groton Police Athletic/Activities League (GPAL), the new group has already been putting on movie nights at the Lost Lake Fire Station and has plans for lots more fun things to keep your down-time from getting you down!
“Our movie nights have a pretty regular attendance,” said Rachael Meade, a Groton police officer who helped start GPAL with fellow officer Kevin Henehan.
“We have a core group of families that participate most months; however, much of the crowd does depend on the movie. We do our best to pick new releases each month, so they may be movies more children are excited to see. We also try our best to recreate a movie theater atmosphere and make it fun for the kids.
“The purpose of Groton PAL is to give children and families a fun family activity to do that is free of cost,” explained Meade. “As of right now, we haven’t expanded much beyond movie nights, however, our first nonmovie night event will be on Nov. 8, a ‘Mario Kart’ tournament! I am hoping to add additional indoor activities throughout the winter months and would like to aim to have two free activities per month during some of the winter months.
“Even though all of our activities at this point have been indoor activities, our long-term plan is to get children outside and active,” said Meade. “We plan on eventually expanding GPAL to include a kickball league for the elementary-aged children and a basketball league for the middle school-aged children. We currently also have a handful of high school juniors and seniors who volunteer and help us during our events as well, so actually we have children of all ages involved with GPAL.”
Meade and Henehan started Groton’s PAL two years ago after seeing a need in town.
“Two years ago, in the spring of 2012, Officer Henehan and I were working a 3-11 p.m. shift,” recalled Meade. “During the shift we had noticed that there was a core group of children in the Lost Lake neighborhood that had nothing to do. We also had noticed that Station 3 had a really great basketball court that was used sporadically by the youth in the neighborhood. We thought that it would be great to get the kids together to play more often, giving them something to do rather than ride ATVs up and down Lost Lake Drive and getting into trouble with the neighbors. From that observation, Groton PAL was born. We presented our idea to Chief Palma, who loved the idea and gave us permission to get the ball rolling.
“Since its inception, there has been a core group of volunteers who have assisted Officer Henehan and I in organizing and running the PAL events,” said Meade. “Chief Palma, Det. Cory Waite, Officer Kathy Newell and Firefighter Robert VanSchalkwyk are among some of the regular volunteers we have been fortunate to work with.”
But in this day and age, even good ideas need to deal with the inevitable red tape.
“After working through logistics and getting the paperwork started for nonprofit status, we held our first GPAL event in September 2013; a cookout at the Lost Lake Fire Station,” recounted Meade. “During that event, we welcomed everyone and shared our vision for what we hoped PAL could contribute to the community. We have partnered with Mountain Lakes Club since our facilities are next to each other and many of their children also attend our events. A week or so after the cookout, we held our first event, a family movie night. The movie night was an overwhelming success, with over 100 people in attendance. We have held movie nights every month (during the school year) since then.
“During movie nights, we set up mats on the floor in front of the screen so the younger children can sit up front,” said Meade. “We serve pizza and popcorn at every movie night. Workers’ Credit Union has donated a movie theater-style popcorn machine and the pizza is donated by Groton House of Pizza and the Groton Police Association/Groton Police Patrolman’s Association.”
The success of the program took Meade and Henehan somewhat by surprise, and when kids began accosting them around town demanding to know when the next movie night was going to be, they knew they had something.
“Officer Henehan and I worked throughout August to come up with a calendar for the year,” Meade said. “We met with Chief Palma and strategized for this year’s schedule of events. We talked with some of the core families to see what types of movies their children would want to watch and what other activities they would like to see besides a movie night. A few kids wanted a video game tournament so we are hoping to provide a fun tournament Nov. 8 with ‘Mario Kart.’
Arriving at the Lost Lake Fire Station Oct. 25 will be GPAL’s movie night with the premiere of “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” to be shown from 5-7 p.m. with popcorn and pizza.
“A driving force behind GPAL is our desire to create and encourage positive interactions between law enforcement and the youth of our town,” said Meade.
Meade added that GPAL would not be the success it is without the help and encouragement of a number of people, organizations, businesses and volunteers, including Palma, the Fire Department and the Mountain Lakes Club.