CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - Cambridge police found a unique way to reach out to at-risk youth by lacing-up the boxing gloves. The boxing program connects with youthful offenders and other teens with serious issues.
When you put boxing gloves on a bunch of teenagers, you never really know what to expect. But at the gym in the basement of the Cambridge YMCA every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon during the school year, something special is happening.
"We try to be a consistent, persistent presence in their life," said Officer John “JJ” Jones.
The Cambridge officer started the Youth and Family Services Boxing Program in 2011, and has not stopped connecting with young people ever since. The program has served more 650 kids so far.
"The goal is to get the kids in here, to get them connected with us, with other people their age who they might not ordinarily connect with outside of this building," said Officer Jones.
Helping teens feel better about themselves
Fifteen-year-old Mariana Duverge first came to program on a field trip.
"It helps me mentally. I don't know… it helps me control my emotions more," Mariana told Boston 25 News. "I feel good about myself after I walk out."
Like many of the students, Mariana goes to great lengths to get there twice a week, taking a bus from East Boston, two trains and then walking.
The program is free and does more than just keep kids busy after school. Social workers and school officials are also on hand to lend an ear.
"A lot of these kids aren't going to come into my office and sit down with me and have a conversation but this is a great venue to have those conversations about personal issues, family issues,” said Cambridge Police social worker Elana Klein.
"I think it gives people a lot more confidence to try other new things in their life which we know is what leads to success," said Annie Leavitt of the Cambridge Public Schools & Agenda for Children.
Offering an escape
“A lot of kids they don't have the greatest home lives, so this can be an escape," said Officer Jones.
"Before, I used to be angry and I wouldn't talk to anyone. Now I just get my anger out on the bag," said Mariana.
Officer Jones says the approach is turning these boxers into success stories:
"You know how to defend yourself, you can walk with your shoulders back, you're a little more confident with yourself and there's nothing to prove."
© 2018 Cox Media Group.