A Real PAL
Back in the mid-’90s, when Steve Cozen heard there was a defunct school gymnasium available for development in Philadelphia’s Fairmount section, he jumped all over it. One look at the place would’ve sent any sane person running in the opposite direction, but not the founder and chairman of Cozen O’Connor. He met with architects and handed them his wish list. “These kids have nothing at home,” the Overbrook native told them. “When they come here, I want them to have it all.”
“All” meant air conditioning, heat, a stage, showers, “the best” basketball court, skylights, a computer lab, a kitchen—and a hefty price tag. The well-connected attorney quickly lobbied his closest friends and law associates for capital, and then went door-to-door with basketball pioneer Sonny Hill assessing residents’ level of interest and support. With the community behind him, Cozen forged ahead.
Ten years later, that dilapidated building is the flagship for the Police Athletic League of Philadelphia (phillypal.com), which serves 23,000 boys and girls ages 6-18 through its 27 facilities. Named after Sam Cozen, Steve’s dad and a famed basketball coach at Overbrook High and Drexel University, PAL strives to build character through teaching self-respect and respect for others. Staffed by two full-time police officers and numerous volunteers—many from Cozen O’Connor and Temple University—the center offers a variety of programs, including computer training, tutoring and a girls-only workshop focusing on positive image building, interviewing skills and dressing for a job.
“Today’s PAL offers kids different experiences than 25 years ago,” says Cozen, who went to a PAL center as a kid. “We try to give them direction. Nobody in this world has a monopoly on brains and talent. The only difference is education and opportunity.”