The Police Athletic League of Jacksonville, Inc. (JaxPAL) enriches the lives of children by creating positive relationships between law enforcement officers and the youth of our community through education, athletic, leadership, and outreach programs.
It only takes one moment to change the trajectory of a life.
Years ago, a 16-year-old girl walked into the JaxPAL Northside Center with her two-year-old son searching for hope and acceptance. This girl, while resilient, was broken, depressed, and angry. She had suffered as a victim of child sexual abuse at the age of 11 years old. Seeking an outlet for her pain, she started skipping classes, getting into fights, and cursing at her teachers. Desperate to end the molestation and abuse, she finally had the courage to tell authorities what had been occurring for years. From that moment, things would never be the same as she and her baby never returned home.
The abuse left her empty, lonely and without hope. Low self-esteem caused her to look for love in all the wrong places. She began to hang out with the wrong crowd, which led to an encounter with a police officer. Surprisingly this encounter—which should have resulted in a trip to the juvenile detention facility—instead resulted in an invitation to visit JaxPAL. He could see that she was burdened with life challenges that were far beyond the scope of the average teenager and he knew PAL would be good for her. Just like that, a life was changed. She didn’t know it at the time, but the minute she walked through the doors, her life was set on a new trajectory. JaxPAL fostered in her a love for the game of basketball, but also provided her with the support she needed to love herself and start turning her life around. Using the skills she learned at JaxPAL—and her own hard work—she later earned a full scholarship to the University of Central Florida to play basketball where she studied criminal justice.
After serving as a police officer for 16 years, Lakesha Burton’s life came full circle when she was appointed as the Executive Director of JaxPAL in 2015. The first woman to lead the organization in its history. For Lakesha, JaxPAL offered an opportunity to cultivate hopes and dreams. As the Executive Director of JaxPAL and the Assistant Chief of Community Engagement for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, Chief Burton uses her own experience to spearhead an organization that is working to ensure that every child in Jacksonville, regardless of their situations, has the opportunity for a bright, successful future! JaxPAL’s guiding purpose has always been—and will always be—to foster positive relationships between law enforcement officers and the children in our community. While the purpose has remained the same over the years, JaxPAL’s strategies to achieve that purpose have adapted to the changing needs of the children in our community.
What started out as engaging kids through sports has evolved over the years into a focus on providing comprehensive wrap-around services for our community’s youth and their families. Afterschool, summer camp, outreach, and leadership development programs are just some of the many opportunities, in addition to athletics, that JaxPAL provides for more than 4,700 local at-hope youth every year. Through its programs, JaxPAL is taking an innovative, holistic approach to ensure kids are given the social supports—such as safety education, character building, nutritious meals, mentorship, age-and-gender-specific programs, and access to mental health counselors—they need to thrive in school and life.
JaxPAL is committed to providing innovative, creative, and impactful programs that enrich the lives of children in our community. JaxPAL always strives to ensure that every child, no matter his or her circumstances, who comes to JaxPAL becomes a Leader for Life!