After becoming a father to two kids, Carlo Sweeney had a vision to give Detroit youth with challenging circumstances a fighting chance at a successful life. Sweeney — known as Coach Khali to the kids — knows the challenges they face, having had friends who ended up in jail or died from street violence.
In 2007, Sweeney founded the Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program, which develops good citizenship in urban boys and girls through a demanding boxing program, strong academic support, and volunteer work. Kids in the free program receive tutoring, mentoring, physical training, transportation, and a daily meal. To stay in the program, DBG requires each pupil to continually improve his or her academic performance and citizenship.
At its last location, DBG was at capacity serving 65 kids ages 7 to 18, with over 95 percent minorities from financially struggling households. With a waiting list of over 450 kids throughout the city, DBG bought a vacant 27,425-square-foot building about 2 miles away from the existing site with a gift from Detroit-born pop singer Madonna and other individual donors. For construction, DBG received a $100,000 grant from Kresge Foundation, $50,000 from Sachse Construction, and an additional gift from Madonna, as well as $101,000 in donated labor and materials.
IFF is providing a $362,000 loan to make $589,000 in improvements to DBG’s new home, including roof repair and buildout of the space. DBG will occupy 18,000 square feet and rent the remaining space to nonprofits that complement its mission. During the first year of operation in the much larger space, DBG is working toward adding 18 full-time positions to its staff of three full-time and six part-time employees.
“We have come so far,” Sweeney said. “The support and recognition our program has received has been nothing short of amazing. These are the hardest-working kids I have ever known, and I’m thrilled that our new location is becoming real for them.”
Upon entering the program, many of the participants read as many as five years below their grade level. All participants have graduated from high school, with 98 percent of them going on to college, in an area of Detroit where the high school graduation rate can be as low as 13 percent. Additionally, they inspire their parents to continue their own education. Fifteen parents have gotten their GED and started college, and 10 currently are attending college with their son or daughter. To date, DBG has served 258 youth.
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