Boxing club to receive Chicks for Charity fundsWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
Sixteen-year-old Trayvone Mathis started life with a mom and dad serving as role models to keep him on the right path. But when he was 11, his parents divorced and he started to fall from that path, hanging out with a rougher crowd and looking to his older friends for direction.
“After years of following, I became the leader, leading those who followed me to nowhere,” Mathis said. “I stole and showed them how. I hit people for no reason at all and watched my followers do the same. Needless to say, I was lost.”
The Start High School junior, speaking on behalf of the International Boxing Club (IBC), shared his story at a recent gathering of Chicks for Charity. The group of female fundraisers had come together to hear from three finalists, winnowed from 50 applications, vying for selection as the group’s next designated charity.
Chicks for Charity, which recently announced that IBC will be the recipient of its next two-year fundraising effort, starting Jan. 1, has a twofold mission: Increase awareness of under-the-radar organizations doing great work in the community and raise money to help them do more of it, said founder Martha Vetter.
Other finalists were Camp Courageous and the Great Lakes Center for Autism.
Chicks for Charity has raised more than $260,000 for local charities since 2006, most recently raising about $156,000 in the past two years for The Victory Center, which provides support to those living with cancer, Vetter said.
Mathis joined IBC at age 15 to learn to fight so he could be tough on the streets; but instead found new direction from Coach Harry Cummins and better examples from his new teammates.
“My first few days at the gym, I was constantly corrected; no rule would be broken and no person would be disrespected. All of the things I had grown accustomed to over the years were severely punished,” Mathis told the Chicks. “Frustration at Coach Harry was commonplace. But for some crazy reason, I never quit.”
He started to make changes in his life, molding himself to new role models and striving toward new standards. Instead of leading younger friends in the wrong direction, Mathis now serves as a positive influence to those around him.
“I felt embarrassment toward my old role models that I thought were men, because as I looked upon them and the things they did, I saw nothing. They never accomplished anything over their whole lives,” Mathis said.
He asked the Chicks to think about their role models growing up and who taught them right from wrong.
“What if no one did, and the people you turned to to see what was right, always did wrong?” Mathis asked.
The teen’s testimony was a big factor in swaying Chicks to vote for IBC, Vetter said.
“It changed so many people’s minds. After you hear their stories, it’s inspiring, it really is,” Vetter said. “But it was so difficult; there are so many awesome groups out there doing great work that could have used the funding. The vote was pretty close. IBC definitely won, but not by a landslide.”
Coach Cummins, executive director of IBC, said he’s still in shock because his gym was chosen.
“It’s like we just won the lottery!” Cummins said. “This is going to be the turning point of the organization.”
More than 4,000 students have passed through IBC since Cummins opened the gym in 1998. The club currently has 30 members, ranging in age from 8 to 19. About 10 percent choose to box competitively; the rest box for exercise. Cummins said IBC has a waiting list, so his No. 1 goal is to be able to add staff during the next two years so the club can expand and accommodate more members.
When the gym opened, 75 percent of its members were failing school, Cummins said.
“I only have two who are failing now and they are new kids,” Cummins said. “For the past few years, we’ve had none failing.”
Sixteen of his former club members are attending local universities.
“The kids have a lot of talent,” Cummins said. “The downfall is they’re always being put down and told they can’t do something. Give them a little confidence and it’s amazing what they can do.”
Mathis agreed that one of the gym’s biggest assets is confidence-building.
“Kids come here shy, with low self-esteem, and boxing raises their confidence to branch out into a lot of different areas,” Mathis said. “It gives you that boost you need to kick your life into gear.”
Toledo was the first IBC in the nation to start a homework center and is the only one Cummins is aware of to have a vocational learning center. Club members are required to do an hour of homework before boxing and their grades must be improving to work out.
It usually takes a few weeks for new members to fall into the pattern, Cummins said.
“At first they just want to box. But then they see other kids doing their schoolwork as well as boxing and those are perfect role models for the other kids,” Cummins said. “Then they start to see their grades pick up, they feel good about themselves, and then they’re hooked.”
Cummins said one club member, a former gang member, spent most of the club’s recent Christmas party in the computer lab doing homework.
“I told him he could take the night off, but he said he had a lot of work to do,” Cummins said. “That’s how I know the program’s working.”
The vocational center, where older students can learn woodworking and basic electrical and plumbing skills in a pre-apprenticeship program, was added in June.
The gym contains a computer lab, with all computers built by the students, and a pro shop, where students sell IBC merchandise, Cummins said.
Through his Gloves with Love program, Cummins takes students into the community to do service projects.
Cummins said IBC plans to host an open house early next year so the community can see firsthand what goes on at the gym, which was originally located on the East Side and is now at 1717 Adams St., in Downtown Toledo.
IBC board member Mike Csizek was also hooked from his first visit, attracted to the positive energy and impressed that the club touches on so many key areas, including fitness, academics, social skills and leadership skills.
Although boxing is typically male-dominated, about 25 percent of IBC members are girls, Cummins said.
Kelly Boucha joined the gym in junior high and boxed competitively against other girls. Now the 21-year-old helps coach and will graduate from the University of Toledo this spring.
“It made me more disciplined,” Boucha said. “I learned more self-worth and how to treat people. [Cummins] always instilled manners in kids so now I try to do the same thing.”
Mathis takes his role as mentor to the younger members seriously.
“When I go up in the ring, you can see them stop and stare and watch,” Mathis said. “I try to be like a big brother.”
Cummins said he’d like to dispel a common misconception people have of boxing clubs.
“We’re not here to promote violence,” Cummins said. “We use boxing as a hook to get kids off the streets. It’s great to have champions in the ring, but we’re trying to create champions in life.”
Vetter said she is excited about starting a new chapter with IBC.
“We want to tell the whole community what is going on down on Adams Street,” Vetter said. “Just to make people aware of Harry Cummins, this great guy, and what he’s trying to do to make a difference, and these great kids. And of course the opportunity to use our 1,800 Chicks to help raise money so they can continue to do what they are doing.”