KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- In the heart of downtown KCK, a historic church building now has a new mission, and scores of kids and cops are thrilled.
"I really like coming here. The environment is good. Everyone's so happy," 15-year-old Angelica Rodriguez said.
"It's a nice looking building. I like the old paintings, very cool place," 13-year-old Marco Romero said.
More than a century ago, that "very cool place" first opened its doors as St. Mary's, the first Catholic Church in Wyandotte County.
On Thursday, the community held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the first Police Athletic League in KCK. The multi-purpose facility at the corner of 5th and Ann is an initiative of the KCK Police Department, and it's managed by an independent, non-profit board.
Organizers said the facility will be a positive place where after school kids of all ages can go and participate in sports, take free art and computer classes and have a lot of fun.
On Thursday, Marco and his buddies started learning everything about boxing.
"It's very exciting. We really have been coming here for several months now. You know anybody can come and learn a new sport," Marco said.
Police officers will also mentor the boys and girls. They hope to help build the students' self-esteem and, at the same time, build better relationships with them and their parents.
"Nowadays a lot of kids thinks cops are bad people, so I think something like this is a good thing," 18-year-old Jorge Carlos said.
"I used to be afraid to talk to police officers. I thought they were scary. But now since being here at PAL, they have become my friends," Angelica said.
It sounds like a program that's been a huge success around the country is already making a difference in KCK. So far, more than 100 students have signed up for PAL in KCK.
"Oh, I'm sure more kids will soon start coming here. It's just so much. We needed this," Marco said.
"I'm hoping to actually have a positive impact on some of these kids' lives and open doors for them," Officer Rodney Ashley said.
For more information on how you can get your child involved in PAL KCK, just visit this site.