There were visits to Disneyland, of course — two, in fact.
But for more than 160 kids from California and some from as far away as New Jersey, Utah and Wyoming, an extended weekend in Anaheim that ended Tuesday was about much more than mouse ears and thrill rides.
It was about leadership.
Making new friends.
And, critically, the weekend was about coming up with cool team names such as the Shark Puppies, Pony Lizards and Bat Sheep.
“Don’t ever forget,” Anaheim Chief Raul Quezada said Monday to attendees of the California Police Activities League’s annual Youth Leadership Academy, held at the Anaheim Marriott March 20-24.
“Whatever your goals and dreams are, you can get there,” Quezada said. “You just have to commit to it. Support one another and you’ll get there, OK?”
The Youth Leadership Academy is the annual flagship educational program of California PAL, a youth program founded and run by police officers and deputy sheriffs to develop kids ages 12-17 into model citizens in their communities.
About 90 percent of PAL participants come from families with limited incomes and who live in areas where gang and related activity is high.
The Youth Leadership Academy is designed to give kids hands-on experience in leadership and character development — and get them out of their comfort zones by getting to know peers who may live in different areas, but who face similar challenges.
Through workshops and activities, YLA participants learn about teamwork and doing the right thing.
Love and help someone with a disability
The glass is half full
Be an example
These were some of the message written down during an exercise over the weekend.
“You all have power and influence to do things to make positive changes in your communities, your schools – everywhere,” Quezada told the participants during an appearance Monday morning.
He asked the kids how many of them wanted to grow up to be police officers.
After Quezada mentioned each dream job, several hands shot up.
“What’s most important is the desire to get there, right?” Quezada reminded the youth.
“You’re going to get there, I promise you, but you’ve got to stay focused. You’ve got to make the commitment to yourself and to your family that you want to get there, and you’ll be able to do it.”
There are 110 PAL chapters throughout California representing some 350,000 youth, said Gregg Wilson, executive director of California PAL.
“Kids don’t trust cops — especially these days,” Wilson said. “That’s why PAL is even more critical than ever.”
The Anaheim Police Department’s Cops 4 Kids (Anaheim PAL) serves children between the ages of 5 and 17 who live in or attend school in Anaheim.
The aim of these Anaheim Police Department-run programs is to establish positive relationships among youth, police and the community at large.
Sadira Dukes, 17, a junior at Katella High School and participant in the Anaheim PD’s Cops 4 Kids, attended the Youth Leadership Academy for the first time.
She met many new friends.
“It was amazing,” Sadira said. “I loved all the fun activities, but I found the workshops to be the most beneficial. I was inspired to do better and to believe in myself.”