August, 18 2018

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Boxing program for low-income At-Risk Youth

When Jorge Hernandez's family could not afford to keep him in Tae Kwon-Do classes or a local boxing club, his anger began to get the best of him.

The 17-year-old Westhill High School senior grew up in a broken home. His parents had split up, his father was not around, and seeing his mother date different men fueled his emotions.

But last summer, Hernandez found a new home at RF Youth Boxing Inc., an after-school boxing program for at-risk youth.

"I found my way to express my pain and my anger," Hernandez said during a brief break from training Monday, "but at the same time, through technique."

Hernandez makes his boxing debut Saturday at a charity event to benefit the program.

Boxing benefit to Help Teens

"Fall Fisticuffs," an inaugural amateur boxing championship and fundraising event, will be held at the Revolution Fitness sports complex and surrounding facility at 860 Canal St. from 6 to 10 p.m. Weigh-ins for the 15 amateur bouts are scheduled for 5 p.m., and the fights begin at 7 p.m.

The event also will feature dance performances, a raffle, an awards ceremony and a silent auction.

General admission costs $20, and VIP seating is $150 per person.

How it all got Started

The boxing program was founded in January 2006 when four teenagers expressed an interest in boxing but could not afford club memberships.

Ahmad Mickens, a personal trainer and boxing coach, and his fiancee, Moyosore Paupau, a personal trainer and social worker, decided to establish a program for 13- to 18-year-olds.

"It really takes a whole community to raise kids," Paupau, 38, said. "Families are the starting point and offer the blueprint, but kids are affected by everyone that's around them."

The program started in a 700-square-foot studio at the Canal Street facility and expanded in April to the entire 4,200-square-foot space that includes a boxing ring, punching bags and ceiling-mounted televisions. Six teens participate for up to 15 hours weekly.

"My goal is to grow this into a big program," said Mickens, 32, who is also an amateur boxer. "I've seen how the troubled youth benefited from this."

Mickens offers a work-study program to those who cannot afford the monthly membership fees, which range from $30 to $125 for comprehensive training.

"There's a lot of youth out there who want to do boxing, but don't have the money," said Natasha Cornejo, a 17-year-old Stamford High School senior. She started boxing two years ago after her boyfriend's enthusiasm for the sport rubbed off on her.

"I thought I should try it out," she said. Her boyfriend eventually stopped, but Cornejo has kept going and plans to fight as an amateur next year.

"If that's what they really want," she said about aspiring boxers, "they should never give up."

During a workout session Monday, Mickens barked instructions at Hernandez and Zach Byrne, a 17-year-old senior at Westhill High School, who also will make his boxing debut Saturday.

"One two, one two," he yelled at them as they shadowboxed inside the ring. "You got to use more of that left hook."

Mickens, watching attentively a few feet away from the ring, then demonstrated for his young pupils.

"Keep your hands near your face," he shouted, as he shadowboxed, making his waist-length dreadlocks swing. "Box it out. Power box. One, two."

Byrne, who started off in martial arts, has been trained by Mickens for more than two years.

"Ahmad is a great coach," he said. "He has a lot of experience having fought himself. I'm very fortunate to have found him."

Byrne started boxing after he got injured kickboxing and realized he could only throw punches. "The natural progression was boxing," he said. "I found out I like it more."

Both he and Hernandez say they are ready to fight Saturday.

"I've done so much in the past that I don't feel that nervous," Byrne said.

"Nothing's going to stop me," Hernandez said.

- For information on sponsorship, donations, or to register and reserve tickets, contact Ahmad Mickens at 550-2797 or Moyosore Paupau at 496-2074.

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