The first Blue Chips awards ceremony took place at 1 Police Plaza in Manhattan on Aug. 24, handing out a slew of awards honoring NYPD officers and teenagers for their contributions to the community and their athleticism.
Blue Chips, a year-round citywide NYPD mentoring and athletics program for teenagers between 12 and 17, officially kicked off at the beginning of July. The program, managed by the NYPD Patrol Services Bureau, focuses on building a bridge between the NYPD and teenagers through mentoring and sports and helps young people succeed in life.
Blue Chips creators NYPD Lt. Michael Almonte and NYPD Officer Darnell Gatling pitched their idea to NYPD Chief of Patrol Juanita Holmes, who immediately was on board.
For Lt. Michael Almonte, giving back to the community through the program was a “dream come true.” He said that even though it was a massive project – citywide, 143 NYPD officers from 75 precincts mentor and coach 900 kids- it led to a lot of fulfillment.
“When you do something that you’re passionate about, it just comes natural,” Almonte said. “You make things like this happen for the youth, and they’ll never forget.”
NYPD Officer Darnell Gatling said that the program was a tool to show the kids a different side of the badge.
“This program is a tool that we use to humanize the badge, to show the community that officers are human beings,” Officer Gatling said.
Both agreed that the program was also a “breath of fresh air” for the cops.
“They get to put their hat down and relax for a second and impact other people’s lives,” Almonte said.
Officer Gatling added, “This is an opportunity for regular patrol officers to have time to do what they love and enjoy the fulfillment of giving back to the community.”
Following remarks by NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea and Chief of Patrol Juanita Holmes, the awards ceremony went underway.
The Summer Session Champions Award went to the Blue Chips basketball team from the 17th Precinct in Manhattan South -winners of last week’s basketball championship held at the “Mecca of street basketball,” Dyckman Park. The runners-up award went to the Blue Chips team from the 111th Precinct in Queens North.
The 2021 Summer Session Elite 8 Awards went to the teenagers and their NYPD mentors of the 17th, 26th, 28th, 70th, 101st, 111th, 112th, and 122nd precincts.
The Blue Chips 2021 Community Solutions Award went to the “teenagers and cops” teams from Midtown South for feeding the homeless, the 42 for providing care packages for families in shelters, the 78 for mentoring young people with autism, and the 123 for cleaning up a historic house.
60th Precinct Blue Chips basketball player Jiaah Jenkins received the 2021 Sportsmanship Award. The 2021 Leadership Award went to NYPD Officers Hakim Constantine and Thomas Ward, mentors and coaches of the 17th Precinct Blue Chips team.
Commissioner Dermot Shea emphasized that NYPD youth programs like Blue Chips and the Neighborhood Coordination School Initiative in the Far Rockaway develop a positive relationship between the police and the kids, keeping teenagers off the streets and out of gangs.
“I think this is crimefighting,” Shea said. “Because you’re taking these kids that don’t want to join gangs, they don’t want to get into trouble; they just want to be kids. Let’s give them a positive outlook. We are doing that.”
He also considered the program a win-win because “the cops love the opportunity to work with the kids of this city, to mentor them, to teach them.”
The commissioner pointed out that one of the challenges NYPD youth programs face is resources but said that investing in these programs was important because “there’s nothing more worthwhile than investing in the kids of this city.”
“That’s an investment that we’re willing to make. Quite frankly, anytime we do a program like this, it’s taking officers and supervisors away from something else,” Shea explained. “That’s not lost on me for a second, but I think this is the right thing to do.”
Looking at all the smiling faces and upbeat vibes in the auditorium, Chief Juanita Holmes said that this is what they had envisioned when they started the program.
She stressed that the program was more than basketball; it was about mentorship.
“We bring someone to do presentations. We had financial literacy,” the chief explained. “We’ve had any trade, but also even entrepreneurship if they want to start their own business. So it’s definitely a lot more than just sports.”
NYPD officer Maureen Marzano from the 78th Precinct in Brooklyn and her team, which was awarded the Blue Chips Community Solution award, agreed that this was one of the best experiences they have had. The teenagers shared that they learned not to give up and come together as a community.
The young people plan to stay with the program, and Officer Marzano, who graduated from Columbia and used to work in finance before joining the NYPD, added, “We are family now.”
16-year-old Damien Maldonado, who participates in the 17th Precinct Blue Chips program, shared that joining the program gave him a second life.
“I get away from everybody. From the streets and all that bad stuff,” Damien said. “I come to practice and have fun with the coaches. It’s like a family bond. I look at [the cops] like they are my brothers and father in a way.”