The overwhelming noise of multiple conversations, the smell of a gym room and the sharp slapping of jump ropes on the hard concrete ground can be heard the moment you walk up the back steps to the Crown Boxing Club gym in Lansing Michigan.
The noises, once muffled by the door, come to life inside and the site of boxing rings, treadmills, speed bags and twenty to twenty-five kids become vivid as the realization that the gym smell is also more vivid inside hits.
The owner of the establishment, Ali “Coach” Easley, answers the question of a volunteer then ruffles the head of one of the younger kids while another clamors for his attention only to burst into a big smile and laugh.
Walking through the gym to his office a loud beep goes off and all the kids on the gym floor drop what they’re doing and start doing push-ups, sit-ups or crunches.
Coach Easley on HAWK
Easley apologizes for the delay and dives right into things; “HAWK is an acronym for the Help A Willing Kid Foundation, which is a non-profit that works with underprivileged and impoverished youth in the greater Lansing community,” he said, before being called off to another issue as the beep goes off and the kids drop to the floor again. It’s easy to tell that it was one of the busier times of the day for the program.
After dealing with the crisis Easley closes his office door, muting the sounds from the gym and continues with the story of HAWK. “We have about 360 kids a year that we assist and on any given day we have anywhere between 15 and 45 kids. Our youth program generally starts about 3 o’clock and goes till about 8 o’clock at night,” Easley said.
The chaotic day starts to make sense, its 3:30 p.m.
“In that time span we have meal programs set up for the kids come down and eat and then they get some assistance with tutoring and things like that. We have a hygiene program, you know, for them to take showers or get their clothes laundered,” Easley said. It’s easy to see how involved he is with the kids and how the extensive program can become a big part of these kids lives.
“Very few parents probably even know that their kids are here,” Easley said when asked about the parental involvement in the non-profit program. “I would probably say 80% of the parents are not involved and they’re somewhat removed from the situation…”
Located at 1010 Ballard St. the lively gym is more of a home to some of these kids than anything else could be. Beyond having a safe place to be after school the program takes kids on events. Easley said, “Generally what I like to do is, if we have an event coming up, I sometimes will take kids just to show them what it’s like, a new kid, and then they kind of get hooked, you know, and want to keep coming to the gym for that opportunity to maybe travel again.”
Within the program there are three main volunteers, Ali Easley, Trisha Nylon and Mosses Manuel who run the business side of the organization; writing grants, finding donations and helping the kids get home at night.
(Clip of HAWK students running through a boxing training circuit)
The biggest program HAWK offers is boxing, “which has grown so large its kind of taken on its own identity,” Easley said.
Mosses Manuel is out in the gym watching the kids run through the boxing circuit intently. “Believe it or not, I used to coach Easley,” Manuel said, not taking his eyes of the kids. “I teach boxing to both kids from HAWK and professionals that come to Crown Boxing.
As the kids leave the gym floor and hit the boxing mats to run laps Manual said, “With the younger kids [verses the professionals] I guess you could say that they struggle with discipline. I teach a kid how to be courteous and respectful.”
When asked about the difference between a kid who first enters the program compared to them later Manuel said, “It’s night and day. When you see a kid who is disciplined and respectful, you don’t mind helping them.”
The beep goes off again and the kids drop to the floor.
When asked if it can be difficult to form personal attachments to the kids Manuel turns his head, “That’s the problem with the whole thing, [HAWK] you get attached to the kids, then all of a sudden they quit coming around, or they get older or end up in jail and those are always sad, they picked the wrong path in life,” Manuel said.
The back area, where the kids can study, is deafening in its silence compared to the chaotic sounds of the gym.
Volunteers, for the tutoring program HAWK offers, are all from various places. Allie Bunch, Michigan State University student said, “I usually go to HAWK four or five times a week. I tutor the kids and hang out with them in the evening, and maybe help out coach with some cooking or cleaning before I drive the kids home.”
At a time when high school drop out is at its highest mention in history, according Google books Ngram viewer, Easley stresses the importance of doing well in school. “We just have rules [to travel] I mean everybody has to have their grades inline…”
“I think this program is helping the kids there not just get better grades on their homework, but it also fosters a more genuine interest in academics, which is great to see,” Bunch said. “I love that the students regularly ask me to bring in or write up extra work for them to do, like spelling words or math problems.”
“It’s more than just after-school-care and it’s more than just boxing lessons. For the kids who are there every single day, it’s almost like a second home, and I think that makes the foundation really invaluable to the community,” Bunch said.
While the kids are packing up their bags, the tutors are finishing up the last questions and the program winds down for the day the a sense of accomplishment can be seen on everyone’s face. The non-profit doesn’t end at 8 p.m. when the boxing lessons are over, or even after high school when a student is no longer ‘of age’. It’s a program that can foster a life long home.
“A lot of the kids we have, you know, they usually start around 6-years-old up to about 16 and then if they stay with the program, a lot of them stay and get involved because they give back,” Easley said.
The program has many people working with different aspects of it that all come together for the same goal. “Any kid that stays with the program and sees it through become good citizens, they either go into the military, go to college or get a good job,” Manuel said. “There is this one kid, I just saw him a couple of weeks ago, who told me he graduated from Michigan State University and just got his first job offer making $65,000 a year.”
The program also has events that those who have gone through it can come back to, “We just had a get together, we had about five or six of the guys come back and help out and pitch in,” said Manuel. “So you can see the benefits of how we impact a kids life, how they grow up and when they become successful they always come back and say thanks, that’s what it’s all about.”