Bensalem PAL offers new program for special-needs children

James Boyle, the Wire

Before tackling the dark and twisty course at Monster Mini Golf in Feasterville, the volunteer officers of the Bensalem Police Activities League had to take care of a bit of business. One of the young members of the PAL’s Winter Fun program missed the 

Photo Courtesy of Bensalem Police Department

opening night tour of the Bensalem Police Station and had to get sworn in as a junior officer.

“We had special certificates prepared for them,” said Sgt. Jim Donnelly, who oversees the Bensalem PAL program. “They signed it and took the oath of office. It’s the first time we swore in junior officers.”

Surrounded by 15 officers, the other kids participating in the Winter Fun events and against the backdrop of walls painted with ghoulish monsters and flickering arcade games, young Jeremiah took the oath, then grabbed a putter and ball.

It was just another of three weeks of special memories Donnelly wanted to create for the children.

Donnelly has headed the Bensalem PAL program since last summer and has worked to expand the recreational opportunities for community children. Besides the already established summer basketball leagues, Donnelly has started hockey and flag football teams.

“I try to find activities that don’t compete with the established teams in the township, like baseball and soccer,” said Donnelly. “We’re looking at starting kickball and whiffle ball this year, too.”

The expanded activities from the PAL have attracted more kids to the program, but Donnelly wanted to find something targeted to children with special needs who might need a little help making a connection with the police department.

“Sadly, they are the ones most likely to get bullied or harassed at school,” said Donnelly. “We want to build bridges and create a relationship with them, so they feel comfortable talking to us if there is a problem.”

Donnelly started the Winter Fun program with spots open to the first 20 boys and girls who signed up, but only six joined. As word gets around, Donnelly hopes to see that number increase by next year. In the meantime, he and his fellow volunteer officers will show the children a good time.

“This has been awesome,” said Chris Keshanech, whose daughter, Mia, participates in the Winter Fun events. “She’s a bit of a thrillseeker, and we’re always looking for autism-friendly activities for her. We signed Mia up right away.”

After the tour of the police station the first night, the five children were sworn in as junior officers and included in a special roll call, Donnelly said. After a special demonstration of the K-9 unit, they were each taken to police cars and given a chance to work the sirens and lights and call into dispatch.

“The dogs were Mia’s favorite part,” said Keshanech. “She’s normally afraid of them, but that’s all she could talk about.”

The three-week program continues this week with a trip to Brunswick Zone for a night of bowling and wraps up Feb. 10 when the kids participate in a Home Depot craft night at one of the district schools.

For more information about the Bensalem Police Activities League, email pal@bensalempolice.org.

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