Kevin Carella can't manage to walk through the gym at the Matt Garcia Youth Center in Fairfield without calling for a basketball and taking a shot.That's just how the police officer rolls. If the ball hits nothing but net, Carella can talk a little trash. If the shot misses, he can blame it on his age.
Carella has become a fixture at the center at 250 Travis Blvd., donating countless hours to do what he can to create a safe environment for teens. His efforts were recently acknowledged when the California Police Activities League honored Carella as its Volunteer of the Year for 2009.
Garcia's mother, Teresa Courtemanche, said she was already aware of what Carella means to the center before the PAL presented him with the award. The center was named in memory of the 22-year-old Garcia, the Fairfield city councilman who died after being shot on Sept. 1, 2008. "(Carella) just has an unbelievable rapport with the kids," said Courtemanche, who is also a regular at the center. "He's so great with them." Courtemanche's vested interest in the center is understandable. For Carella, his initial decision to volunteer at the center has turned into a commitment.
"Once it's in your blood, it never goes away," he said. "It's something I enjoy doing. This is one of the most rewarding things I've done in my life." Money was an issue when the center opened in November 2008. There was only enough funding to staff the center three days a week. A fourth day became possible when Carella and his colleagues in the Fairfield Police Officers Association volunteered to work at the center on Tuesdays.
Carella said he will stop by the center when time allows during his patrols just to see what's happening. The teens don't need to see him in uniform to realize he is a police officer, he added. When he is on duty at the center, his attire usually consists of a PAL T-shirt and shorts.
If he had hair, he would not hesitant to let it down around the teens. Being bald, he has to make do with bad jokes and an even worse jump shot. "I want them to know I'm a person," he said. "A lot of them think police don't joke around, they don't have fun and they don't play basketball."
For Carella, two out of three is all good.
By Cecil Conley / The Reporter