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Retired Police Officer Turns Historic Kansas City, Kansas, Church Into Police Athletic League

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Andrea Tudhope
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KCUR 89.3
Experienced fighter Lalo Robles, right, teaches boxing lessons at the new Police Athletic League in Kansas City, Kansas.

Kansas City, Kansas Police Department has turned a 128-year-old church into a community gym for kids.

St. Mary's Church is home to the city's first Police Athletic League. Mayor David Alvey recognized it at the grand opening Thursday night, but the program has been up and running for a few weeks. 

Every weeknight from 5-9 p.m., the doors of the church at 5th and Ann Avenue are open to the public.

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Credit Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3
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KCUR 89.3
Renovations of the 128-year-old church at 5th and Ann Avenue began two years ago. It's open now as home to the new Police Athletic League. Some of the original stained glass is still intact.

Executive Director Matt Tomasic spent 23 years with the police department in Kansas City, Missouri, but he has lived in Kansas City, Kansas, his whole life.

"My roots are in this community, and I saw that we could use a program like this over here," he said. "It makes sense on every level. I personally believe the only way we're going to start to make things better is through one-on-one relationships."

It's only been operational for a few weeks, but there are already around 100 kids enrolled in the program. There's a boxing ring, several punching bags and jump ropes.

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Credit Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3
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KCUR 89.3
Rodney Ashley is one of the full-time officers stationed at P.A.L.

Rodney Ashley is one of two full-time KCKPD officers stationed at P.A.L. It's his first run at community policing. Previously, he was on patrol for eight years. 

"Most of the calls we respond to, we don't get much interaction with the youth," Ashley said. "It's good to have exposure to the kids in this setting. Let them know we're more than just police, we're moms and dads."

He said even though it's new that he's already seen a positive impact of the program on the young people in the area.

"I've had kids tell me that having a place to come box is preventing them from being on the streets. It builds discipline in their life," he said.

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Credit Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3
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KCUR 89.3
Local artist Vania Soto painted murals for the flower-shaped windows, which were damaged. The work depicts different images of the Virgin Mary; pictured is her depiction of Our Lady of Guadalupe, for the city's Latino population. The other, unfinished, will depict Our Lady of Medjugorje for the city's Croatian population.

In March, local artist Vania Soto will start teaching art classes. Tomasic said they also hope to refurbish the basement for a community member who has offered to teach salsa classes. And in the spring, they will open a community garden. 

Andrea Tudhope is a reporter for KCUR 89.3. Email her at andreat@kcur.org, and follow her on Twitter @andreatudhope.

Andrea Tudhope is an award-winning multimedia journalist based in Kansas City, Missouri. She is currently coordinating producer for America Amplified, a national public media community engagement initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 
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