The temperature flirts with triple digits outside the Somerville Boxing Club. Inside, 17-year-old Patricia Santana has just finished pulverizing the speed bag, practically off its hinge. With her gray tank top soaked with sweat, she takes a break with a fresh, ice-cold bottle of Poland Springs water.
“It’s a good therapy session for me to come here,” Santana said of the Somerville Boxing Club and its program geared toward at-risk youth. “I am quick-tempered and I can now come here and go all out on the bag and then go home. And instead of yelling at my family, everything is better.
“Being here helps me control my temper.”
Until recently, however, Santana had few alternatives to channel her energy. Because her mother was unable to fund her martial arts lessons, she was forced to quit. Now, the doors of the Somerville Boxing Club have swung open for young people like Santana, who has been in two different foster homes, to offer them a productive outlet.
Offering this intervention/prevention program for youth, the Somerville Boxing Club is using the sport of amateur boxing as an alternative to antisocial behavior for youth in Somerville and surrounding communities in Massachusetts. More than 40 kids attend the club through referrals from the courts, police or high school extension programs.
Every day of the week, these at-risk youngsters can come, free of charge, and work out with one of the five trained boxing instructors on site. But, according to veteran trainer Rich Baker, the boxing aspect is just a small component of the ultimate goal the club — which celebrates its one-year anniversary in September — looks to accomplish.
“We’ve all been around the block so we can teach these kids life lessons that we might have learned the hard way,” Baker said. “This is a safe haven and we want to provide these kids with a little stability in their lives by being mentors.”
Despite the sweltering heat outside, the club is buzzing with activity on this particular day. While the stereo pumps the latest hit from Sean Paul, four of the six heavy bags are being pummeled with ferocity.
In one corner, Kirk Duran, a 15-year-old born in El Salvador, works on his shadowboxing in front of a large mirror that runs the length of the 3,400 square foot facility
“Being here gives me a purpose,” the 6-foot-4, 340-pound Duran said. “A lot of my friends are home sitting on the couch, doing nothing but watching TV. But I like being here . . . it is such a great atmosphere.”
Meanwhile, a feisty Irish-Italian kid named Lawrence Sullivan – LJ for short – tapes his little mitts before beginning his workout. The gym is now his home away from home.
“I love being here and I love the sport,” said Sullivan, who is eyeing the Junior Golden Gloves next year. “I recognize my greatness and I am going to win it.”
Under the guidance, experience and genuine interest of those working at the Somerville Boxing Club, that goal does not seem too farfetched.
“It’s about feeling good,” said Tom Ward, a youth counselor at the club and with CASPAR (Cambridge and Somerville Program for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Rehabilitation). “When kids come here they are greeted with a smile, a handshake, and are treated with respect.”