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Philadelphia Police Athletic League working to keep kids active and off the streets

Philadelphia Police Athletic League working hard to keep kids active and off the streets
Philadelphia Police Athletic League working hard to keep kids active and off the streets 02:48

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- For Munir Williams, the Philadelphia Police Athletic League center in Southwest Philadelphia became a safe haven. The Ford PAL Center is one of over a dozen centers citywide helping kids stay active and off the streets.

Williams is now working at the same center that helped him with the hopes of inspiring others to stay safe.

"As I got older, I started seeing the neighborhoods decline. People dying. The drugs and stuff," Williams, 20, said. "I also knew that I don't want to be a product of my environment. PAL, for me as a kid, it was a super safe haven."

Williams grew up just down the street from the Ford PAL Center, operated by the Philadelphia Police Athletic League. It is also where Williams met Officer Joe Ellerby.

"'People kind of think cops, we are like robots," Ellerby said. "No, we're human beings too. And these kids are human beings."

Ellerby has served the community for more than 30 years. Just like most PAL officers, he believes these children are more than rec kids.

Police Officer Joe Ellerby and 20-year-old Munir Williams first met at the Ford PAL Center in Southwest Philadelphia. The center is one of dozens of centers in the city offering free programming to kids. CBS News Philadelphia

"We're all in the same fight," Ellerby said. "It's to make it out of here and to make sure that our kids have the right tools to be successful in this world."

On the other side of Philadelphia, inside the Harrowgate PAL Center, director Angel Gonzalez said he was also once a PAL kid who wanted to go into law enforcement at a young age.

"No way this is a police officer. Police officers don't dress like that, they don't act like that," Gonzalez said. "So it kind of attracted me to want to know more. So I was like, 'I can do that.'"

With over a dozen centers, Gonzalez and his colleague Officer Jessica Martinez hope more families will take advantage of the free programs that PAL offers.

"We take them to golf, we take them to parks, we take them to football programs," Gonzalez said. "Because it's free programming throughout the city."

Munir Williams, 20, is a former PAL kid who is now working as the athletic director at the Ford PAL Center in Southwest Philadelphia. CBS News Philadelphia

"If it's not good enough for my kids," Martinez said, "it's not good enough for them, right?"

PAL officers are dedicated to ending the violence on the streets of Philadelphia, and they are inspiring the next generation like Williams to do the same. Williams went from being a PAL kid to now an athletic director.

"It's not really like a job, because I love it," Williams said, adding he's thought about becoming a police officer. "What's next? … We definitely have been talking about a position for me here, me possibly taking over."

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