In the Ring and Off the Streets

 

The Somerville Youth Development and Boxing Club (SYDBC) will take some major steps forward later this month, and not just in the ring.

Sure, the club’s top young fighters are heading to the Golden Gloves competition in Lowell, their title aspirations evident in their six-day-a-week training. Then there’s club member Rashida Ellis, who will travel to Colorado Springs to fight for a national title in her age group after a November victory in Portland, ME earned the 16-year-old a New England title.

But January is also when the club plans to implement the youth-development goals it formed in October when it partnered with the city in the basement of the Edgerly Education Center (11 Otis St). Community service projects, tutoring services, job placement assistance, and substance abuse education will all commence this month, according to Somerville Youth and Volunteer Services Coordinator Nancy Bacci.

“We thought for the fall, we wanted to get the club up and running and build relationships with the kids,” she says. “We’re eyeing the turn of the year to get these [programs] running.”

The Somerville Boxing Club has existed in some capacity since 1977, but has struggled to make rent and had been without a home for two years prior to its reopening. City-owned property at Edgerly meant the opportunity for a partnership: The club gets free rent and the city gets a like-minded partner to keep kids off the streets and push youth initiatives – hence the addition of “Youth Development” to the club’s name.

A year ago, the Edgerly basement served as city storage; the removal of a defunct street cleaner proved one of the more difficult tasks in transitioning the space into a gym. Today, it is still in upstart mode; the club just got all of its fitness equipment running at the end of November and its boxing equipment, all donated, is pre-used.

Still, the club currently has more users than it ever has, says Norman “Stoney” Stone, one of its original founding fathers and the manager of former World Boxing Association Heavyweight Champion John Ruiz (a product of the club). Of its 130 members, 120 are considered youth.

It’s not hard to figure out why more are coming: With no rent to worry about, the club has been able to offer free access — in exchange for a small community service commitment — to Somerville’s prospective boxers under age 21. “It’s a dream come true,” Stone says. “[The city] gave us a home back in Somerville.”

 

Bacci has reached out to Tufts, UMass Amherst and Harvard’s community service programs to enroll their students as tutors in all subjects. She is especially excited to bring in Tufts student athletes, since they are required by Tufts to fulfill community service commitments. In this sense, as she believes they’ll serve as strong role models to Somerville’s youth.

“So many of our members have grown up with Tufts in town and dream of going there some day,” she says.

SYDBC members will be required to fulfill two hours per month in community service projects. Bacci is in the process of organizing the projects, but says they will be large in scale and involve the entire club, as opposed to individual efforts; she expects neighborhood cleanups to figure into the workload. This not only ensures that all members are participating, but also establishes a communal atmosphere for the members.

The club will also offer substance abuse and job placement classes. They will be led, respectively, by Cory Mashburn, the city’s Director of Prevention Services, and Bacci. The substance abuse programs will be offered both to members and their parents. The job placement programs will be designed to help young members find summer employment, build resumes and prepare for interviews. Bacci and Stone think these programs all mesh well with the boxing element. “It’s a holistic approach,” says Bacci. “Its everything that goes into raising well-rounded youth in Somerville. We want them to be strong in all areas and be strong members of the community.”

Some members are already benefiting from the club, even without the new programs in place. East Somerville resident Willy Samayoa, 16, credits his improved anger-management to his training. “I control it now,” he says. “I had to. You can’t stay like that.” Samayoa also says his grades have gotten better since he began using the club. That’s the sort of story Alderman-at-Large Bruce Desmond hoped to hear when he got involved with the project in early 2011. After the club approached Desmond, the great grandson of the owner of Lowell’s first boxing gym, he worked to gain the Mayor’s support and secure the Edgerly basement. “A lot of kids need discipline,” he says.

“Boxing provides it. They need to know it’s important not to act on certain urges. We teach them that here.”

This month, with its new youth development programs set to begin the club will teach its young members even more.

Club membership is free to Somerville residents under 21-years old, $20 per month for youth from other cities and towns, and $30 for participants over 21. The overwhelming majority of the members fall into the Somerville-based, under-21 group. The Golden Gloves competition will be held Jan. 13 and 17 in Lowell.

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