Boxing Gym Tucked Inside a Little Village Church Basement Aims to Provide Support and Encouragement

A boxing gym in the basement of a Little Village church is on a mission to provide new opportunities for neighborhood kids.

On a recent Friday night, Gabriel Navarro hosted an amateur boxing tournament. 

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“I love seeing kids with their trophies and belts, and I just love their smile on their face,” said Narravo, a former professional boxer and head coach at Chicago Youth Boxing Club. “I like to teach what I’ve learned. Half of my coaches were fighters here first and now they’re coaches.” 

During the week, the gym is a packed house. Students like Elizabeth Rodriguez come after school.

“What I love about being here is when you come here it feels like family,” Rodriguez said. “You support each other sparring. You can take out your anger, it’s a stress reliever.”

Most of the young people participating in the program are from the Little Village neighborhood. Brandon Hirales, 15, says he’s lost 80 pounds since joining the boxing club.

“I used to get bullied a lot and I didn’t like that. I also felt like I couldn’t do other things that people could do, so I decided to come back here and lose all the weight,” Hirales said.

Narravo says the program focuses on giving kids confidence in and out of the ring.

“He would never step in the ring like a year ago,” Navarro said. “He said he would never want to do it, he’s too fat. And I told him he could … and look at him now.”

Chicago Youth Boxing Club started in 2006 as a refuge for young people seeking a positive outlet. Raul Alcalá participated in the program when he was kid and now coaches others.

“It gave me a different outlet because I grew up in the streets,” Alcalá said. “I had friends that were in gangs, friends that were doing bad stuff, friends that were going good stuff. So, it was up to me to choose and this boxing helped me guide myself.”

The boxing club is in the basement of La Villita Community Church. Noah Pickens is the new executive director and says he has big plans for the boxing center.

“We really focus a lot on the boxing, but we also have a piece of our programming that nutrition and health, and on the third side, it’s more about academics success and personal growth,” Pickens said.

The team is getting ready to revamp programming beyond the ring. Mentor Alexis Uribe is leading a tutoring program called “Si se Puede.”

“The vision is to help anyone in the community,” Uribe said. “Whether that’s through academics support, social emotional support or just providing a space for youth to be able to be here.”

Whether it is an uppercut or a hook, some compete in tournaments in hopes to be good enough to go pro.

“A lot of them come in and are nationally ranked or they are hoping to get nationally ranked,” Uribe said. “All that opens doors for the possibility of what is it that someone may want to do or something else.”

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