Youth program cultivates successful environment

Michele Dennis,

The East Oakland Boxing Association is an after school and summer youth program that offers one-on-one tutoring, gardening, cooking, arts and crafts and martial arts training for kids aged 5 to 20. All activities are free.

Banners with the words Integrity, Courage, Respect, Focus, Honor, Education and Discipline hang above the group’s facilities on 98th Avenue, which include a boxing and athletic gym, a kitchen, a stage for theater, crafts areas and classrooms.

“Boxing creates a chill, calming effect,” said Dalia Gomez, who began boxing as a form of meditation about 10 years ago and is now head coach at the East Oakland Boxing Association. The sport demands discipline, she says.

“These kids love the discipline, they need it,” Gomez said. “I teach them lessons of life, to model yourself after great people, make massive commitments towards your goals, to go hard or go home. I teach them to always believe in yourself.”

During a recent training, Gomez was in the ring, her eyes intent, as she watched a sparring match between two of her young protégés, ages 10 and 11. They had been training with her for over two years. When they finish it’s easy to see they are friends outside of the ring. The boxing program has both boys and girls. The kids are carefully guided, and never allowed to go beyond their skill set. They put hours each week into their training.

Stanley Garcia, former professional boxer, founded the association 30 years ago. In the last 10 years, the association has transitioned into a full-fledged youth program, with a small dedicated staff and a core group of volunteers.

Though it has an ongoing commitment from the City of Oakland and several recurring grants for its base, the program is always in need of additional funding in order to allow for expansion and growth. EOBA serves 600 youths a year and volunteers are needed  for the Summer Youth Program, association staff said.

Many of the program’s current teachers and docents were previously enrolled in the program as youth. Some are currently pursuing degrees at Cal State East Bay. The association’s executive director, Sarah Chavez-Yoell, earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees from CSUEB.

CSUEB alumna Whitney Greswold, the program’s development assistant, is currently enrolled in the master’s program at CSUEB, studying public administration.

A mentor to five youth, Greswold said the program helps the kids “connect socially, and allows the mentors to advocate for them at their own schools.”