Champs Gym in southeast Roanoke prides itself on keeping at-risk youth off city streets and out of trouble through boxing. But maintaining the building and its services is expensive, and the families the gymnasium serves cannot sustain the facility.
“We don’t receive any money. We have PayPal and stuff like that for donations. We have so many kids,” Latorie Woodberry said. “It’s important, and we need to find a way to fund it.”
Woodberry is himself a veteran who works part-time as an electrical contractor. He owns Boxing and Brawling LLCthe company that runs a youth boxing program – call it Boxfit – at the Jamison Avenue gym.
But the business isn’t profitable, and while it should charge Boxfit participants the $65 entry fee for its services, Woodberry doesn’t.
“I can’t,” he said. “I can’t charge the children. There is no way to write a contract with someone who is under 17 or 18 years old.
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Woodberry said only about five parents regularly contribute to the cost of their child’s attendance.
“I’ve enrolled 26 kids now,” Woodberry said. “I may have two parents who pay school fees. But it’s just more like, ‘Hey, tip the coach.’ This leaves me in a bit of a pickle as the gym insurance is around $350 per month.
Woodberry’s business started as a summer camp in 2018.
“Then it just overlapped into two summer camps. Then COVID hit, and we went all year, did a little online study with the weight room. Then we keep shooting,” Woodberry said. “We rotate kids ages 7 to 17 year-round, about 65 kids a year.”
The Boxfit program lasts about four months. Upon graduation, participants return to the gym as mentors and help Woodberry and other coaches train new pugilists.
“They just kind of fed these guys, kept them in line, and helped me out here,” Woodberry said.
Quan Fuell, 16, started his Boxfit journey earlier this year and now works as a mentor. He said the program helped him focus.
“It really helped me with my school, helped me with a lot of stress, a lot of things that I went through personally,” he said.
During a tournament at the gymnasium in May, high schooler Fuell wore an ankle monitor in addition to boxing gloves.
“That’s really why I started the program,” Fuell said. “Once you put that ankle monitor on, you can’t leave the house. You can’t do anything. And being home all day, we get bored. I would be at home, gaining weight, with nothing to show. So I started the program.
Fuell initially participated for fun. Now he is training with a new goal in mind.
“It really changed me and what I wanted my dream to be,” Fuell said. “I used to want to be a footballer, but when I got in the ring I was like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m trying to be like Mike Tyson, Muhammed Ali or Sonny.’ I’m trying to be one of the best, hopefully I’ll be a professional boxer by my senior year.
Fuell said while the gym is fun, it plays a role in keeping kids safe.
“It helps some kids work in teams, helps some kids deal with their social anxiety,” Fuell said. “But for the most part it’s to keep them out of trouble, so they don’t get in trouble somewhere else.”
Woodberry said most program participants are “juvenile offenders” who come to Champs Gym from Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare, the Family Service of Roanoke Valley and juvenile correctional facilities.
“Probably about 80% of them,” Woodberry said. “Two of them are under house arrest or restriction or some sort of surveillance.”
The boxing trainer says a 14-year-old boy found out about Boxfit after his mother passed away.
“It just closed. Don’t sleep, don’t eat, don’t talk. When I first met him he was in the car. He was like pale, like a vampire or a ghost or something. He didn’t want to get out of the car,” Woodberry said.
The trainer spoke to the boy out of the vehicle and into Boxfit. He participated in the program for two months.
“He didn’t really like boxing, but we pulled him out of his shell,” Woodberry said. “He felt so comfortable with us. He was ready to be placed, at that time, to be placed with another family.
Woodberry said the community needs programs like the ones he offers in Champs to promote wellness.
” There are many problems. We don’t have good debt relief programs or rent relief programs, and you can see that stress transforming for kids,” Woodberry said. “I just feel like we need a stress relief program, certainly citywide, even if it doesn’t fund Boxfit.”
Woodberry applied for grants from the Roanoke Gun Violence Prevention Commission (GVPC) to host a series of “field days” designed to promote “community unity through physical fitness.”
The program flyer said the field days would include games, food, music, a relay race and prizes. Woodberry said the program would have run from July 20 to August 20.
“Getting everyone out, getting their blood pumping, having an open dialogue about what we can do to prevent gun crime and what we need in our community,” Woodberry said, “I think that would have been a good thing to put the energy in.”
When the GVPC announced the recipients of the mini-grants in May, Boxing and Brawling LLC was on the list. But Woodberry said the company is not a nonprofit, so it never received any funds.
“They obviously liked the initiative, and then we got knocked down and denied funding because we’re not a 501© (3), and somewhere in the fine print you must be a 501© (3 ) to receive grant funding,” Woodberry said. “It was like a big fail, but I’m reaching out to different organizations now, trying to get funding for the initiative, because my kids are excited to do it now .”
Woodberry said he also needed funds to improve conditions at the gymnasium, a former fire station which Woodberry says is “falling apart”.
“There were two fire engines here,” Woodberry said. “It kind of fell into our hands, and we’re making the most of it.”
Still, Woodberry believes the gymnasium is a safe space for youth in the community.
“A lot of children take the bus and walk. They just want to be in my gym, because it’s a place where they can come to eat, talk to their friends, come to work out, solve their problems. It’s a place where they feel comfortable,” Woodberry said.
The gym also offers a free lunch and snack program for participants.
“I used to have the internet there for them,” the coach said. “Me being a kid in the same kind of circumstances, I just want to be able to come back to my community and provide that kind of situation.”
Woodberry said he also spent time in group homes, foster homes and in prison before becoming a boxer. He said he devotes a lot of time to Boxfit because he understands the challenges his students face.
“Boxing saved my life,” Woodberry said. “Just find a home in the ring and be at peace, be able to make money non-illegal, be able to put food on the table, feed my family, take care of my babies I think it just made me stand up more as a man and gave me the confidence to not be like a criminal.
“It means so much to me,” Woodberry continued, “because I want to be able to give that opportunity to someone else who might be lost, trying to find their way. It might not be your way. , but it will give you the discipline to find your way.
Woodberry recently launched a campaign that allows interested people to sponsor a young person’s Boxfit experience.
“My idea is to get a lot of people to give a little bit,” Woodberry said. “My program, every three months, is about $6,000 to run it. If we get, let’s just say 100 citizens, to donate $65, then I’m funded for the summer.
Anyone interested in sponsoring a child’s Boxfit experience can submit funds through PayPal or via CashApp using the “$BoxingandBrawling” tag.