HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – The Harrisburg Area Police Athletic League (HAPAL) just completed a merger that has been in the works for two years to acquire 3.6 acres of property that includes an Activities Center, a baseball field and a storage building.

“We finally got a home for PAL,” said Dr. Charles E. Stuart, CEO and Chairman of the Board for HAPAL. “We finally have a space that we can call our own.”

Before joining forces with the Lower Paxton Youth Center, HAPAL didn’t have a home. They were borrowing time on baseball fields that weren’t their own, which limited involvement time for kids, and they had no permanent place to host events.

Now they have their own space to grow and increase their impact on Dauphin County children.

Their new building had many uses throughout the years, starting as a farm before Ruth Wood dedicated the center to be used for youth.

Over the years, Woods’s vision of a haven for children was lost and the building on site was transformed into a place for concerts, a gambling headquarters and then a church. The church was eventually abandoned and the building was shut up for years.

Stuart lives near the new HAPAL headquarters and has watched the buildings and ballpark slowly deteriorate. A place where he once watched his children play ball became abandoned and overgrown with grass.

Stuart and the team at HAPAL are now transforming all of the facilities, breathing life back into the ballpark and remastering the building into their youth center. They are continuing HAPAL’s mission and fulfilling Woods’s original dream.

They are keeping part of the name of the baseball field in honor of Wood — the Wood Memorial Field.

“We see a lot of potential here,” Stuart said. “It just gives us a place where kids can come and it’s safe. This is not just for this area, it’s for Dauphin County.”

Stuart and his team have been at the facilities daily for the last three weeks working on renovations. They have received major support from the Lower Paxton Township community as well, with neighbors from up the street from their location pitching in to remove the tangle of overgrown trees on the building.

All of HAPAL’s coaches have been putting in work as well, cleaning up the baseball field and getting it ready for the winter months.

Stuart and HAPAL are especially excited about the field because it allows them to mentor kids from ages five to 13 through the sport, keeping them out of trouble and helping them build strong relationships with their local law enforcement.

“Baseball is a good mentoring tool,” Stuart said. “That’s eight years they’ll be involved with us, so hopefully in that eight years we can help build character, build some good citizenship and give them other options other than crime.”

Besides continuing its emphasis on mentoring through sports, HAPAL now can offer other activities and services to children. Some of Stuart and the HAPAL staff plans include music lessons with the drum set that was left in the building, cooking lessons in their new kitchen they are working on renovating and offering hot, homecooked meals to children after school.

They are also hoping to collaborate with Phillips Elementary School to kickstart a free breakfast program at the center for kids who qualify for reduced or free lunch. After serving the kids, they will safely walk them over to the school, which is just up the hill from HAPAL’s new location.

HAPAL is hoping to get TVs, video games and other items for kids to enjoy at the youth center. They also plan on bringing back the group sessions they used to hold which cover topics such as bullying, self-esteem and career building now that they have a place to hold these meetings.

“This is a game changer and it’s opened up to everyone,” Stuart said. “We’re all about giving services to kids. We’re all about making their lives better.”

On top of the new center, Stuart and HAPAL are working on a new collaboration with Premier Academy in Harrisburg to start an after-school program for kindergarteners to third graders next month.

“I’ve always promised, I’ll never leave my Harrisburg kids behind, never,” Stuart said.

HAPAL plans to still have a suboffice in Harrisburg and emphasized that the new facilities and programs they will be offering are open to everyone in Dauphin County.

“I want kids to know that there’s a future,” Stuart said. “You don’t have to run the streets.”