PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s known as the Cathedral of Basketball. On Monday, the Palestra on Penn’s campus became a sanctuary for about 200 children.

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“I just love ball. There’s something about it that I really love,” said 12-year-old Zaraiah Williams.

Though out of school for President’s Day, the youth spent the day in bounds for the annual PAL Day, organized by the Police Athletic League of Philadelphia.

PAL executive director Ted Qualli says the day is about learning to learn.

“If you can learn how to dribble with your left hand, you can learn how to do algebra,” Qualli said. “So it’s about building skills, and one skill builds on the other.”

Penn’s deputy athletic director Angel Prinos says the kids also get to experience a college campus, and to understand that there are people who care about them.

“It’s critical to have these kids realize and understand that there are a lot of resources available to them,” Prinos said.

PAL’s goal is to give these kids a safe haven — promoting character development, reducing crime, and providing educational opportunities along the way.

“It actually helps you get off the street,” Williams said.

PAL has 20 centers across the city, each staffed with a dedicated Philadelphia police officer.

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“We get closer and closer because I call him every day,” said 14-year-old Naji Reid of Strawberry Mansion.

Reid says he goes to the Strawberry Mansion location almost every day after school and has bonded with his PAL officer Ricardo Hanton.

“It’s awesome. You get to see these kids transition from young men to men,” Hanton said.

Beyond transition, transformation is happening, too. Reid says this program has changed his perception of the police.

“Honestly, I think they’re good because they’re saving lives and bettering the youth,” Reid said.

They’re some hard lessons, learned on hardwood floors: not only how to shoot hoops but to shoot for the stars — knowing that if they fall, there’s a support system that will lift them up again.

“We have a bond now. It’s a lifetime bond and I’ll always be there for them,” Hanton said.

For more information, visit the PAL website.


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