Some pint-sized boxers from the Haven for Hope Shelter took their very first jabs Wednesday evening at the Advocates Boxing Youth gym on the city’s west side.
“The number one goal for us is to boost their self-esteem,” said Jason Mata, director of the program.
Mata helped start the program in 1999 with his father, Charlie Mata, who is a former professional boxer.
Advocates Boxing Youth is a free program that gives kids and young adults, some of them at-risk youth, a chance they might not otherwise get.
"We're not teaching them how to fight. We're teaching them how to box. We're giving them the opportunity to be part of a team,” Mata said. “And if it’s something they excel at, we'll give them the opportunity to compete.”
The classes teach kids more than just how to throw punches. They are an opportunity for exercise and learning discipline.
It is also a great way to keep youth involved, according to District 5 city councilman David Medina, who joined the program as a teenager.
“These youth have a safe place to come to where they won’t be engaging in any criminal activity, but be engaging with the right people who can get them connected with people of positive influences,” Medina said.
“We just want to let them know there’s people out there who care,” said Mata, “and there's a boxing program that they’re welcome to come to and we'll give them the one on one attention they deserve.”
Haven for Hope plans to bring youth ages 8 to 23 to take part in Mata’s program once a week.