A Chicago teen had been repeatedly warned about sneaking into a fitness center in a northern suburb. When workers at the facility made good on their promise to call the police, an officer did the unexpected: He offered to help pay for the teen’s membership.
Vincent Gonzales, 15, would routinely show up at XSport Fitness in Skokie, Ill. He previously had a membership, but it had expired when his mother could not afford it anymore.
“It was kind of like a magic show. He would just randomly appear, not walking past the front desk,” XSport Fitness employee Justin Pritchett told Chicago ABC affiliate WLS-TV of Gonzales. “All of our entrances and exits are blocked. And sure enough, he would just show up on the basketball court. He just wanted to play ball.”
In late August, a day after being warned that the police would be called, Gonzales sneaked in again. A juvenile without a membership is considered a liability, so gym staff called local police. Skokie Police Officer Mario Valenti arrived at the club.
“After 23 years in this job, you size up people pretty quickly. And I could tell he was a gentle type of kid,” Valenti told WLS.
Rather than arrest Gonzales, Valenti offered the club $150 of his own money so the teen could have a place to play basketball.
“I thought it was really nice. I texted him and I said ‘thank you.’ That meant a lot,” Gonzales told WLS.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Pritchett then called the corporate office to report the situation.
Pritchett told WLS that corporate was so taken with Valenti’s gesture that it made its own offer: The $150 would go toward a two-year membership with a total value of $718 and X-Sport Fitness would absorb the rest of the cost.
“For the officer to respond the way he did and turn a negative situation into an unbelievably positive situation, that’s just fantastic,” Pritchett told WLS.
“You get satisfaction out of helping people, especially because our job is so negative,” Valenti said.
A point guard, Gonzales is hoping to try out for the basketball team at his new school, Uplift Community High School on Chicago’s North Side. After Officer Valenti’s kind gesture, the name of Gonzales’ new school is all the more fitting.