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NYPD mentoring program ‘Blue Chips’ works to build stronger bonds with youth

NYPD Chief of Patrol Juanita N. Holmes tosses the ball of the first Blue Chip basketball game at the High School for Law Enforcement in Jamaica on July 1, 2021. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

NYPD Chief of Patrol Juanita Holmes kicked off the official start of Blue Chips, a citywide co-ed youth mentoring and sports program, at the High School for Law Enforcement in Jamaica on Thursday, July 1.

The program, which focuses on bridging the gap between the police and young people, is managed by the NYPD Patrol Services Bureau and open to kids between the ages of 12 and 17. The basketball league is open to players between 13 and 16.

Alongside NYPD brass and in front of spectators and basketball players looking forward to dunking the ball on the court of the third-floor gymnasium, Holmes said that Blue Chips provided an opportunity to impact the lives of thousands of teenagers citywide.

Chief Holmes addressed the players, saying “May the best team win this evening,” and reminding them that win or lose, they were already winners because they were part of the Blue Chips program.

NYPD Chief of Patrol Juanita N. Holmes speaks at the Blue Chip inaugural ceremony at the High School for Law Enforcement in Jamaica on July 1, 2021. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Seventy-two teams from 75 precincts will play six-season games against other squads from their patrol boroughs before it’s off to the borough playoffs on Aug. 9 and the citywide championship on Aug. 20. The teams are coached by officers from the respective precincts and consist of 12 players each.

Holmes stressed that the NYPD recognizes the importance of youth engagement. She was optimistic that the citywide program would further improve already established relationships with some of New York City’s youth and create trust in the police department.

“I always say intervention is prevention,” Holmes said. “We keep our children busy we put them on a path to develop certain skills and hopefully have a better opportunity in life.”

Queens South Borough Commander Ruben Beltran and NYPD Chief of Patrol Juanita N. Holmes listen to the National Anthem at the Blue Chip inaugural ceremony at the High School for Law Enforcement in Jamaica on July 1, 2021. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)
The NYPD marching band plays a few marching tunes at the Blue Chip inaugural ceremony at the High School for Law Enforcement in Queens on July 1, 2021. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

She noted that Blue Chips was not only about sports but also about books clubs and drama clubs, since not all young people were into athletics. The program also includes a community problem-solving component.

“They will be able to look at things that need improvement in their community, recommend it to us, and we’ll team up — whether it’s graffiti that we are addressing, cleanups being done or maybe some more plants in the area — but I think it’s gonna be tremendous,” Holmes said.

NYPD Lieutenant Michael Almonte said that mentoring young people was the program’s primary focus, referring to it as “the strongest part of the system, like a foundation.”

The kids meet with their mentor on Tuesdays for mentoring sessions, which feature a new topic every week, and then basketball practice, while Thursdays are game days.

“We also have guest speakers that come in to speak to kids about financial literacy, entrepreneurship, domestic violence. Just trying to prepare them for the future and give them tools that they can use in their life when they get older,” Lieutenant Almonte said.

The first Blue Chip basketball game took place at the High School for Law Enforcement in Jamaica on July 1, 2021. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)
Participating youth in the Blue Chip program are ready for the tip-off of the first basketball game at the High School for Law Enforcement in Jamaica on July 1, 2021. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Almonte, who has also been a mentor with Student Sponsor Partners (SSP) for 11 years, said that the nonprofit organization offered eight scholarships to a private school for the kids who participate in the program.

“One kid from each patrol borough is going to get a scholarship to a private high school,” Almonte said. “The student has to be an average student, not a student that super excels because those kids are going to get scholarships. So we want to focus on those kids that are struggling a little bit.”

Almonte explained that the relationships formed between the police officers and the young people “were incredible.”

“You know, that’s a way to show them there’s a heartbeat behind this badge. We’re human, we’re just doing a job, and we care about you,” Almonte said.

Young people interested in signing up with Blue Chips can contact bluechips@nypd.org or head over to their local precinct.

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