111th Precinct prioritizes its kids 1

Commander of the 111th Precinct John Portalatin, center, cheered on the precinct’s Blue Chips after they won a July 16 basketball game against the 109th Precinct’s team.

The NYPD knows that kids are just as integral to the community as adults. So, the department has launched several youth groups to actively engage them and amplify their voices.

At the 111th Precinct, Youth Coordination Officers Kristin Kirby and Michael Cillis have spearheaded the effort in northeastern Queens with two programs that actively engage teenagers both physically and mentally: the Blue Chips and Youth Build the Block.

“The Blue Chips is a basketball program for every precinct with a bunch of youths from 14 to 17 [years of age],” said Cillis. “It’s for whoever’s interested in playing basketball. We have the Francis Lewis [High School] boys representing the 111th.”

The citywide league kicked off last month. Each precinct has its own team, and its youth coordination officers lead practices and weight room workouts before facing one another for games.

The league serves a myriad of purposes for the kids, the officer said: Keep them physically fit, create a comfortable relationship with police officers and keep them off the street during the summer.

The chance to participate in the program was “a no brainer,” said Francis Lewis Coach John Staudt. He’s seen major growth in his young athletes during their short time in the league.

“We have a couple kids in particular who are being pulled in a couple directions. They’re building relationships instead of being on the street. It’s been effective,” Staudt said.

Those relationships with teammates and officers go both ways, the coach said. The kids will teach Kirby and Cillis some pointers on the court, and the officers will close practice with some advice on how to handle tough, real-life situations.

“We talk about the good and the bad in everyday life,” said Blue Chip player Stanley Zhu, who said he joined the team because it offered him “an opportunity to mature and grow as a person on and off the court.”

Teammate and rising high school senior Timothy Park said joining the team has piqued his interest in community involvement. He plans on participating in upcoming graffiti cleanups hosted by the 111th Precinct.

“It seems interesting to me. I feel like helping out my community,” Park said.

The basketball league will run through mid-August, but Staudt is trying to extend its activity through the rest of the summer by entering a private league. While the Blue Chips is free, the new league is not. Staudt is collecting donations in order to offer the experience to his players free of charge and stress, especially following a financially tough year that has affected members of the team. Donations can be made at gofund.me/b725d37e.

In addition to mentoring teens on the court, Kirby and Cillis are leading the precinct’s first Youth Build the Block program, another citywide initiative that replicates the original meetings, but is exclusive to 12- to 17-year-olds.

“Everyone who attends can voice concerns in the community. It’s going to serve as more of a board. It’s their opportunity to voice their concerns directly to us,” said Kirby.

Attendance for meetings will be strict: no adults. The officers are cultivating an environment that encourages participation, fosters comfort and excludes intimidation.

Cillis noted that young community members tend to have different concerns than their older neighbors. Adults routinely discuss crime, particularly burglaries and car thefts, at Build the Block meetings, he said, but his conversations with teenagers focus on quality-of-life issues, like the state of parks and public spaces.

The Blue Chips have already expressed their interest in attending the Youth Build the Block meetings. Cillis anticipates to have a few dozen participants at the first session, but hopes that number will grow once the school year begins. He and Kirby will visit area schools to promote the program and recruit new members.

The 111th Precinct’s first Youth Build the Block meeting will take place at Alley Pond Park on July 27. The group will meet at 4 p.m. on the corner of 76th Avenue and Springfield Boulevard.

It won’t be all serious, Cillis said. Other precincts followed their first meeting with a game of kickball, and the 111th officers intend to create a fun atmosphere as well.

“We have some ideas,” he teased.

For more information on the meeting, contact Kirby at Kristin.Kirby@nypd.org or (917) 864-2413.

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