The Palatka Police Department's PAL program serves community year round
The Family Life Center on Bronson Street in Palatka was busy Friday morning. In the facility's gym, children were playing games. In another room, a teenager was setting up arts and crafts. Gathered around tables in another room, elementary school-aged children were busy making slim, having fun and making a mess. It was just another day at Camp Higher Ground, the Palatka Police Athletic League's summer camp for children.
The camp, started 23 years ago by a group of Palatka Police Officers, including Jason Shaw, who is now Palatka's Chief of Police, is an annual tradition that provides local children with a secure, entertaining, and educational environment during their summer break from school. "We saw a need to find something for the community's children to do for the summer, and the program just took off," said Chief Shaw. "It was a team effort.
Members of the Police department were involved in starting the camp more than two decades ago, including then Police Commander Reno Fells, who now works for the City's Recreation Department.
Vonshell Offord, the camp coordinator and program director, expressed the significance of Camp Higher Ground, remarking, "It's a fantastic summer destination for kids. We emphasize both fun and education, incorporating activities focused on math, reading, and STEM subjects. We currently have around 80 children participating this summer. “Although enrollment in the camp is closed for this year, Camp Higher Ground will be back next year.
The camp is just one project run by the Palatka Police Athletic League.
"We do not just hold a summer camp, but we have a mentoring program. We have basketball and cheer programs in the fall. We are about youth development." said Offord, "PAL is basically geared towards any youth."
We're always open and we're here to serve the community. The mentoring program that's free of charge; it is year-round for ages 7 to 18 years old and offers opportunities for the kids within our community to be guided and helped by community leaders," she continued.
Offord said PAL is also planning on starting an e-gaming program shortly where children can play video games.
"We are always looking for ways to engage the youth of Palatka," she said.
"The Police Athletic League is about building relationships. Chief Shaw and his officers are not just policing Palatka; they are part of Palatka," said PAL Executive Director Lalita Thomas. "This program they founded shows how much that is true."
The group has several projects coming up soon.
Thomas shared, "We are currently gathering materials for our Back to School Bookbag and Clothing Giveaway, aiming to provide a minimum of 500 backpacks filled with school supplies and clothes to prepare children for the upcoming school year. Additionally, on July 13, we will host a local leadership summit, focusing on guiding youth through important life choices."
More information about these programs can be found at https://palatkapal.org/ or on the group's Facebook page, www.facebook.com/PalatkaPoliceAthleticLeague
PAL also gives its members the opportunity to travel.
Charity Givens, 16, a student at Palatka High School and a counselor at the camp, was part of a group of 11 local PAL members who traveled to the Washington D.C. area last month to attend a national PAL youth mentoring and leadership summit.
"I loved the summit. It gave me so many different opportunities and experiences. I learned a lot about growth. It is empowering to be in a room full of adults who listen to you and care what you say." she said.
"Taking the students to the youth summit let them meet PAL members from across the country, to network and to learn from each other," said PAL Director Thomas, who, along with Chief Shaw and Palatka Police Capt. Tobby Williams accompanied the students to the summit.
PAL members also attended a conference in Orlando this summer.
Jayla Ledbetter, a 14-year-old counselor at Camp Higher Ground and student at St. Augustine High School expressed gratitude for PAL, emphasizing the strong sense of community it fosters. Jayla remarked, "I just like the sense of community PAL gives you. I like the feeling of well-being and the energy of the power of being with the kids and the adults. PAL will go to bat for you. They'll do anything for you. I really love that."
To get more information, volunteer, or support the Palatka Police Athletic League, please visit https://palatkapal.org/
Employee Spotlight - Kyun is planning for the future
Kyun Session didn't want to be a football player, astronaut, or firefighter when he was a child. He wanted to be a city planner.
"As a young kid, I always played city-building games like City Skylines, SIM City and stuff like that, and it just piqued my interest, and I wonder if there's a job like that in life that you could do that and planning is the closest you get to that," said Kyun "So that is what I have always wanted to do."
This summer, he is getting first-hand experience as an intern working with the City of Palatka's Planning Director, Lisa Walsh, in City Hall.
Kyun, who graduated from Palatka High School in the Class of 2023, is one of eight young people working in different departments in The City's intern program.
He has learned a lot about what he plans to be his profession.
"Planning is the backbone of our city. It is the future of the city. Planning the infrastructure, our housing, protecting our historic areas, protecting the riverfront, and things like that are so important if you want Palatka to continue to be the special place that it is," he said.
A lifelong Palatka resident, Kyun, 18, will attend St. Johns River State College this fall to pursue his associate's degree and plans to transfer to a university to receive a bachelor’s and graduate degree in planning with the hopes of returning to Palatka.
"I want us to change the narrative that Palatka is just a dying city. I definitely see the future of this town. Whether we like it or not, people are going to start moving here." he said, "In places like St. Augustine and Jacksonville, prices are going up, and Palatka is more affordable. We have to be ready, we have to plan."
“Kyun is a joy to work with. When I first heard of his interest in planning, my curiosity was piqued. His passion is obvious in everything he does.” said Walsh, “We are all very impressed with Kyun’s observations and suggestions. He will go far in anything he chooses to do.”
"Every city has its problems. We have ours, but I have no problem saying that I am proud to be from Palatka." said Kyun.
Main Street USA: Your opinion matters
We want to know what you think!
Please take a few minutes to let us know what you think of Palatka becoming a Main Street Community.
With Palatka’s ongoing goal of revitalizing the City’s downtown corridor, City Hall and the City Commission are exploring the City’s participation in the Florida Main Street program. Downtown areas once associated with vibrant commerce and bustling activity, now often evoke images of abandoned and decaying buildings. However, thanks to initiatives like Florida Main Street, communities such as DeLand, St. Petersburg, and Ocala have witnessed a resurgence in their downtown areas.
The Florida Main Street Program played a role in revitalizing these historic districts, fostering economic development, and revitalizing the local economy by attracting jobs, generating revenue, and bringing people back to the heart of these cities.
Established in 1985, Florida Main Street provides valuable technical assistance to various Main Street programs across the state. It operates as part of a larger network comprising more than 40 nationally recognized programs throughout the United States.
The Main Street Approach works best in communities that already have valuable resources, such as historic buildings and local independent businesses. Palatka certainly meets those criteria and we possess residents with strong social and civic connections and a genuine desire to make positive changes. By implementing a mix of long-term and short-term actions, the Main Street Approach helps bring about lasting transformations in these communities.
The Florida Main Street program requires a city the size of Palatka to hire a full-time Executive Director for the program, and a volunteer board of directors comprised of community members to oversee the project.” These requirements need to be considered as the City enters into the budgeting sessions for the next fiscal year and we value your input.
Please visit the Florida Department of State’s Main Street website at https://dos.myflorida.
and then let us know if you think this program is right for Palatka by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo of the Week – Fourth of July
A rainy evening didn’t stop Palatka from celebrating Independence Day with the city’s annual fireworks display over the river.
Welcome to the team, Casey Cheap. Casey is a new planner working in City Hall
City Employee Anniversaries
- Jared Bradley 4 years
- Chad Brandford 19 years
- Eddie Cutwright 4 years
- Rebecca Jones 2 years
- Christopher Lewis 7 years
- Robert Mohr 12 years
- Philip Smith 19 years
- Amanda Turbeville 2 years
Career Opportunities with the City
The City of Palatka is currently taking applications for the following positions,
Please visit https://palatka-fl.gov/Jobs.aspx for more information or to apply.
Equipment Operator (Driver)
Human Resource Director
Human Resources Coordinator
Sanitation Equipment Operator (Driver)
Utility Maintenance Worker-Trainee
Water Plant Mechanic
WWTP - Operator Trainee
CANCELLED July 13 - Palatka City Commission Meeting
July 20 - 1st Budget Workshop Community Redevelopment Agency CRA 2:30 p.m. - City Commission Chambers
July 20, 2023 at 3:30 p.m.
1st All City Funds Budget Workshop – 3:30 p.m. (or immediately following the Community Redevelopment Agency workshop noticed for 2:30 p.m.)
July 21, 2023 at 2:30 p.m.
Presentation on Charter Review by the Florida League of Cities – 2:30 p.m.
2nd All City Funds Budget Workshop – 3:30 p.m. (or immediately following the presentation referenced above)
Palatka City Commission Meeting
July 27, 2023, 6:00 p.m. City Commission Chambers
August 17, 2023 at 3:30 p.m.
3rd All City Funds Budget Workshop – 3:30 p.m. (or immediately following the Community Redevelopment Agency workshop noticed for 2:30 p.m.)
August 18, 2023 at 3:30 p.m.
4th All City Funds Budget Workshop – 3:30 p.m.
Please visit https://www.palatka-fl.gov/ for more information.