LIVINGSTON — Law enforcement officials and youth advocates agree that keeping at-risk youth busy after school is a proven method of reducing gang violence.
But keeping kids busy while providing an outlet for anger and frustration is even better and the Livingston Boxing Gym, sponsored by the Merced County Sheriff's Activities League, does exactly that.
"Really, it's a win-win for everybody," said Sheriff Mark Pazin. "We have a number of programs directed at juveniles and young adults to keep them off the street, away from criminal activity, regardless if it's substance abuse, theft (or) gangs."
One of those programs includes three boxing gyms for at-risk youth in Atwater, Delhi and Livingston which recently moved to a new facility.
The year-round program, co-sponsored by the Carlos Vieira Foundation, is free for kids from ages 8 to 18.
The Livingston boxing gym moved from a shared warehouse space to a more suitable building at 444 Main St.
"We've been working with the owners of the building to go ahead and revitalize and rehabilitate this place," Pazin said. "And now it's got a big boxing ring and all the items necessary for training."
Jim Wilde, president of Merced County Sheriff's Activities League, has been involved with amateur boxing for 15 years and says it's an avenue to get away from the gang lifestyle.
"Boxing is a gateway for troubled kids who may not be into other sports," Wilde said. "Kids can be angry when they start seeing how ugly the world can be. Boxing is probably one of the best outlets for that anger and it's constructive."
The boxing gyms are run solely by volunteers, including law enforcement personnel, and rely on private donations, Wilde added.
"A big advantage is that these kids get to meet police officers," Wilde said. "They get to meet us and start figuring out we're human beings. They start getting to know us as a person rather than a badge."
Livingston Police Chief Ruben Chavez said the program aligns with the goals and objectives the department has for getting in touch with youth.
"This was a perfect opportunity for us to reach those youth that might benefit from the program," Chavez said. "It's a good outlet for them to get some exercise, learn a skill and even pursue boxing at a professional level."
Kids start the program by going through extensive training, Wilde said. They are usually paired with others who are similar in age, weight and experience.
Anyone interested in the program can stop by the gym to pick up an application. The training classes at the Livingston boxing gym are held from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.