Courtesy of Junior Giants Baseball
San Mateo Police Activities League’s executive director Jeff Aspillera high-fives a child in the Junior Giants Baseball program.
A father of three boys and longtime police officer, Jeff Aspillera is the perfect fit to head a program aimed at preventing juvenile delinquency by engaging youth with police officers to help create a safer, more connected community.
Aspillera, San Francisco born and raised, has been executive director of the San Mateo Police Activities League program for the past two years. PAL, as it is commonly referred to as, is a joint partnership between the San Mateo Police Department and the San Mateo Parks and Recreation Department. The program has been in San Mateo since 1997 and includes free options for youth such as basketball leagues and camps, Junior Giants baseball, golf, dance, computer lab time, cultural arts and other activities.
During his time in with PAL, he’s shifted the programming away from high schoolers.
“The focus in the past was geared toward kids hitting the wrong path,” said Aspillera, 40. “We’re trying to start in middle school and tackling stuff all kids face since all kids are at risk.”
He also brought the Gang Resistance Education and Training Program to sixth graders in San Mateo. Borel Middle School acted as the pilot program last year and now it’s a 13-week lesson in every middle school, offered in physical education or life skills classes. Children create skits with different themes like bullying or how to turn down drugs and then complete a project at the end of the term. Three officers teach at the schools and he teaches once in a while himself.
“My passion is kids and being a police officer it’s an enormous opportunity to be able to reach out to kids in the community,” he said. “The focus needs to be on middle school kids.”
Recently, he hosted the first annual PAL baseball tournament and raised $12,000 for PAL’s programs. He previously worked as a school resource officer for the Oakland Police Department’s PAL where he was trained as an officer.
What are some of the challenges PAL faces?
“Funding,” said Aspillera, who previously received a business degree at Saint Mary’s College. “Each year we need to reach out with grant writing and we’re always looking to reach out to the community.”
Kaiser Permanente and Pacific Gas and Electric are two of the big funders of the program.
“Kids come up to me and say hello,” he said. “The focus is on building a bond between police and kids.”
More programs geared toward middle schoolers, along with more after-school programs, are two wishes of Aspillera’s for PAL in the future.
“Now that we’re in schools, we can identify some of the more at-risk kids and offer them programs if they can’t afford to play football, soccer or participate in other activities,” he said. “They can interact with police officers to get them on the right track. I’m grateful for a program like PAL that makes us able to really reach out and connect with kids in the community. As a police officer you have to start off with kids.”
Currently, PAL is prepping for its annual golf tournament at Poplar Creek Golf Course in San Mateo. The event is Friday, Sept. 27 and, while all spots are taken to participate, Aspillera is still looking for sponsors.
The program is supported by a volunteer board of directors and a staff made up of police officers, Parks and Recreation department staff and city employees.
To learn more about PAL visit sanmateopal.org.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105