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Reaching Out Through Art

Police Athletic League making a difference in the community.

There is much more to the Alexandria Police Athletic League than sports. There’s Teen Outreach Through Art.

Officer Belinda Callahan is a youth officer in the Crime Prevention Unit of the Alexandria Police Department. She is also an artist.

“There are many kids who love sports,” Callahan said. “But there are others who do not. I wanted to find a way to reach out to middle school kids who aren’t playing basketball or soccer or football.”

Callahan teamed with a local artist, Todd Sprow, and planned the program that is being offered for the first time at Francis Hammond Middle School. “The idea is to teach the kids about art and the values of respect and dignity at the same time,” Sprow said. “I’m mostly teaching them how to draw cartoons that represent the particular core value that we are teaching that week.”

The values are based on a Character Counts curriculum that is used inn many schools throughout the city. “We learn about respect and things like that and about art,” said sixth-grader Stephen Samuel.

“We’re learning how to draw heads,” said Ricky Dunbar.

THE CLASS lasts for three months and is voluntary. “We went to the cafeteria during lunch and talked to the kids about the program,” Callahan said. “We didn’t want referrals from teachers or counselors. We wanted the kids to want to come.”

The cost of the program is $20 per student. “At the end of the program, we’re going to have a show where the kids can display their art work to their parents,” Callahan said. “In January, we’re going to start recruiting kids for a program just like this one at George Washington Middle School.”

Callahan and other officers are working hard to revitalize the Police Athletic League, which has been inactive for several years. "APAL gives kids a positive outlet–and there’s an activity of interest for every child," says Deputy Chief Earl Cook. "Officer Callahan is an excellent role model."