Area 51 is commonly known as a classified U.S. Air Force facility in Nevada. The secrecy that surrounds the location along with the past and present activities has become catalyst for conversations about what is going on at Area 51.

When Catamaran Media recently received word that the Egg Harbor Township Police Activities League was awarded a grant by the OceanFirst Bank Foundation, we reached out to the PAL Team to set up some time to talk. The grant will help the EHT PAL to assist at least 20 children to attend camp this summer. The meeting was set up and we were scheduled to meet in Egg Harbor Township at the Area 51 STEM Building. Our interest was piqued and what we discovered on the visit of some of the exceptional past, engaging present and exciting future activities draw a very cool parallel to the area that inspired the name of the building we met in.

The entire complex created by the PAL team and supporters is impressive to say the least. Founded and serving the entire South Jersey community, the PAL programs have included everything from paintball to laser tag, motocross to farming, and aviation workshops to a robotics team that has reached international recognition levels.

The main facility for the Egg Harbor Township Police Activities League is 2590 Ridge Ave., conveniently located between the Black Horse Pike and Delilah Road. The mission of PAL includes improving the police and youth community relations, promoting and advancing the needs and welfare of children to actively participate in constructive endeavors.

Hector Tavarez is the director of the EHT PAL. He has been with the program and along with many committed volunteers and staff has championed the growth of the program for over thirty-one years. Assistant to the Director Lisa Souder has been with the program for four years. When asked, Tavarez is quick to shift the credit for success to not only a team approach to success but most importantly to listening to the young people involved in the PAL program. Almost every “new” area or offering that the program has can be traced back to conversations with the children who were past or present members of the PAL program.

Some shifts in programing, like moving away from paintball and into laser tag, seem like a natural move forward. The motocross trails being added were based on young people seeking a safe and legal place to ride. Those activities help to build communities of young people and those who support them.

As science, technology, engineering and math, also known as STEM, was becoming more common in curriculums throughout the nation and the world, the PAL program responded to requests from both the youth members and the surrounding communities by moving into aviation activities and workshops.

Over the past decade, many volunteers and staff have become involved and helped to advance the STEM programming at PAL. Rayfield Leatherwood has been a STEM Mentor volunteer for the past six years. Michelle Riordan has been a STEM program coordinator and mentor for over four years. 

The Summer Camp programs benefitted when farming was added to the offering. Kristin Doherty has been a farm summer camp coordinator for over a year and an eight year volunteer at PAL. Hector let us know that the diversity and opportunity to go from working with plants with “steams” to working on “STEM” projects has been a real catalyst for youth interest and community support that has helped grow the program. The PAL runs summer camp at four campuses. The programs include: EHT Little PALs, EHT Ridge Campus and S.T.E.M. camps, EHT Farm Camp, and Galloway Camp.

In addition to the Summer Camp Grant, EHT PAL recently received a grant from OceanFirst, that enabled EHT PAL was able to do 3D printing of face shields for emergency workers. The grant was used to buy supplies needed such as plastic, elastic, foam, filament and double-sided tape. As the production starts, the EHT PAL will be able to 3D print three complete face shields per hour using four 3D printers that the program has acquired over the years. All face shields are being donated by to provide those at risk in our community that are on the front lines.

One of the benefits to the continued growth of the EHT PAL program beyond the township borders, is the opportunity to connect with youth who have an interest or desire to learn more about STEM. or any of the other programs offered. Ben Capp, age 14, of Galloway Township, only found out about PAL when the program started providing services in Galloway. Ben immediately got involved in the robotics program and has been the First Tech Challenge team business lead for the past two and a half years.

The robotics team reach national recognition as the program developed with a top 10 finish in the world championships in 2014. Capp was excited to tour us through the Area 51 STEM Building. The workshop, the seminar space and the overall design and function of the building was well suited for the creativity and development that happens there. In addition to the robotics program the PAL Program is also doing some great work in the aquatic world of robotics placing in the Sea Perch Challenge in 2014.

PAL offers S.T.E.M. Summer Camps including Lego WeDo, Lego WeDo 2.0, Mindstorms EV3, Servo City/Actobotics, ROADS on Mars Challenge, N ASA Astronomy Camp, SeaPerch, and Concepts Of Flights. The EHT PAL is a proud NASA Astro Camp Partner. In addition to the STEM. summer camps PAL offers year-round afterschool STEM workshops to include Lego WeDo, Lego WeDo 2.0, Mindstorms EV3, Smart Car/Smart Robot, Astronomy, and ROADS on Mars Challenge.

The final stop on our tour was Buddy's Adventure Zone STEM Building & Summer Camp. The building is in the final stages of completion after construction began July 2, 2019. It is a well-designed, planned and constructed STEM facility. At completion the building will be 14,400 square feet of new opportunities for the PAL program. The building includes a lecture hall, PAL main offices, classrooms, robotic team rooms and plenty of open space. At this facility, children will have the opportunity to exercise their minds and imagination through creative learning.

The facility will provide PAL the space that will allow them to expand their programs well into the future. They are preparing the children of South Jersey for the next generations of the fastest growing careers.

PAL is on the move and never seems to stop growing. What is the next project? Ground has already been broken for Phase 2, located adjacent to the new building. It will be a 22,600-square-foot indoor sports arena. Other new programs already in the works at PAL include ROV remotely operate vehicles for land, air and water, work with drones, DJI Robomaster, RC cars, and underwater ROV.

For more information or to get involved with or support the EHT PAL serving South Jersey, call 609-645-8413 or see EHTPAL.org.

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