Sal Flores is a Ventura native. As a child, he moved from street to street along Ventura Avenue with his family. When he wasn’t packing up, he was running with gangs. It was with his peers that he had his first run-in with the law, and when he was 23, he went to prison.

Cuffed at the wrist to his seat on his way to prison in Lancaster, Flores says he made a decision that would shape the years that followed.

“I was looking out of the window, looking at a car that looked just like mine,” said Flores. “It was a husband, wife and a little girl, and it was like a picture God painted for me. Do you want that life? That year I ended up sitting in Lancaster for over a year and I had made a choice to make some changes.”

Flores, now 44, is chairman of the Police Activities League, a program of the Ventura Police Community Foundation, which will host its inaugural Honoring Our Youth event this Friday, July 12, at the Ventura Beach Marriott. Twenty-one kids ranging in age from 7 to 17 will receive awards for successfully completing the PAL Boxing program, 15 of whom are girls, and the event will feature speakers such as Police Chief Ken Corney. The boxing program is a part of the City of Ventura’s West Park recreation program and takes place at the West Park Community Center.

Flores’ time with PAL began in 2007. After returning to civilian life, Flores opened an upholstery business in Ventura in 1999. In 2006, he recognized a man walking by his shop as Ken Corney, who at the time was Assistant Chief of Police.

“I come out and I say, ‘hey, do you remember me?’ And he says, ‘Mr. Flores!’ ” said Flores. “Then he asked, ‘How would you like to come out and work with kids?’ Growing up on the Avenue, you think, am I worthy to work with kids? No one ever believed in me, so I said, ‘Sure.’ ”

Flores went to a meeting and learned about the Police Activities League.
“I was already involved with kids’ life at church,” said Flores. “I love doing that. I wanted my story not to just stop. I said, if I get involved in this I can make an impact on somebody’s life.”

At the time, PAL was a robust, independent 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that held an annual golf tournament fundraiser and hosted multiple after school programs for kids. In 2008, however, with the downturn of the economy, PAL began to lose funding. After several years of stagnation, during which PAL’s programs continued on a smaller basis, the organization was absorbed by the Ventura Police Community Foundation in 2016, also a 501(c)3 nonprofit.

Flores has continued to instruct boxing for PAL at West Park on Ventura Avenue, and many other programs. To date, over 100 kids are involved with after school programs with PAL. The students that will be honored on Friday are all part of the “boxing and fitness” program, which emphasize fitness rather than one-on-one competition, who have been in the program for over three years. Flores says the students see in him someone who can relate.

“On the Avenue it’s tough to build relationships, but a lot of time has passed and a lot of people know me now, and there’s an opportunity that we can sponsor some of these kids,” said Flores, pointing to one example of a young girl who wanted help getting sponsored to attend Lu Ross Academy. “I hope that people will partner up with us so we can help more kids like her to achieve their goals.”

Ben Schuck, 74, a member of the PAL committee, took on his role in January. Schuck says that he joined because Flores said that he could use someone who is good with paperwork, and needed help rejuvenating PAL. Schuck, a lawyer by trade, has worked on compliance and accountability with PAL and says that the event itself will have many messages.

“Sal’s going to talk about the transformation of these kids from having no particular goals or interests to wanting to be their best, wanting an education,” said Schuck. “One of the goals is to tell the community that this is going on because we’re not talking just about today, but many tomorrows. We want to help the next generation and the one after that.”

Two officers from the Ventura Police Department will also be honored at the event for several years’ worth of commitment to the program. Officers Eric Jackson and Misty Henderson will be recognized for taking time to visit kids at West Park, attending outings with them such as a recent trip to an LA Dodgers baseball game, and providing a positive face in the community.

“Sal’s one of my heroes,” said Corney, Chief of Police since 2009 with the Ventura Police Department. “He’s a person of great passion for giving youth opportunities to expand their horizons and achieve success, especially those who come from challenging circumstances.”

Corney says that he hopes guests in attendance this Friday will be inspired by Flores’s success with the Boxing Program and will want to support it.

“I think people who are able to give and want to support the program can make donations to the VPCF and specify that donations go to the PAL program and that the money will be used for what is the best crime prevention in our community, which is engaging our youth, keeping them busy and active and growing during non-school hours and providing mentorship from people like Sal Flores and some of our VPD officers and other members of our community,” said Corney. “It’s a proven success and with more money and more involvement and more donations from people in our community, we can grow the success.”

The Police Activities League’s Honoring Our Youth celebration will take place on Friday, July 12, from 7-9 p.m. at the Ventura Beach Marriott, 2055 E. Harbor Blvd., Ventura. Tickets are $25. For more information, call 805-651-8647.