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Martin Luther King Boxing and Mentoring Program

Kids learn more than left jabs and right hooks at the Martin Luther King Boxing and Mentoring Program in east Grand Rapids. The program’s one-on-one mentoring adds a Big Brother Big Sister-esque component and creates a family-like atmosphere for young athletes. 
Michigan Nightlight: In your view, what makes your program innovative, effective or remarkable? 
Carl Kelly, Executive Director of the Grand Rapids Youth Boxing Foundation: I would say our approach to seeking out mentors in the community. Especially those at the college and university level – those kids who are interested in education, criminal justice, law, or whatever. We use those programs as a recruiting ground to get one-on-one mentors to work with these kids.
We make it our goal to place each child one hour a week with a caring, trained adult for one year. It has been shown that it makes a major impact on the life of a child.

We make it our goal to place each child one hour a week with a caring, trained adult for one year. It has been shown that it makes a major impact on the life of a child.
Another thing is our whole idea of cultural outreach. We take as many field trips as possible to as many cultural outlets as we can: medical facilities, universities, libraries, the museum, whatever. We’re trying to expose these children to as many opportunities or possible careers as we can. We want to show them the other side of life other than their immediate community.
What was the best lesson learned in the past year?
We are not always successful at matching mentors and mentees. Sometimes the chemistry just isn’t there. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that and saying to the student and to the mentor, “I think this person is going to be a better match elsewhere.” That’s one of the lessons I’ve learned – you don’t have to stick with the original match.
What was the hardest lesson learned in the past year?
As much good as you think that you’re doing in the community and as much as you think the community supports your efforts, raising funds is extremely difficult, time consuming, and often frustrating. Raising funds was our biggest problem. It only costs about $50,000 a year to run this program, and we’re serving over 100 students. You’d think that’s pretty reasonable since we have five coaches, a facility with equipment, and a host of volunteers. It’s still very difficult to reach our goal and maintain the program.

What would you want to say to people who are considering donating?
I would say, take a look at the population that we’re serving. Take a look at the children who aren’t on the street and are in a safe environment during those crucial hours between four and eight o’clock. You’re getting students out of trouble and into a positive environment.
What really differentiates this program?
I think what really stands out is that it’s not only a boxing program to help build athletes; it’s also a mentoring program where we pair adults with youth for an entire year.
You end up creating a family-like atmosphere – it’s a very positive environment for these youths who often come from some negative environment.
You end up creating a family-like atmosphere – it’s a very positive environment for these youths who often come from some negative environment. It’s a much more supportive program when you include the mentoring aspect.

What are the keys to success for your organization?
A strong, supportive set of dedicated volunteers and a community that is willing to support the program – those are our keys to success. We’re always looking for more volunteers, more dedicated volunteers, board members with greater influence in the community.
We don’t have any problem raising the number of students – we never run out of students who need this kind of support. Right now we’re still looking for ways to raise funds, ways to draw more volunteers, and ways to recruit new board members. 

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Person Profile

  • Carl Kelly
    Boxing and mentoring combined helps at-risk kids find success.


  • Grand Rapids Youth Boxing Foundation
    Grand Rapids Youth Boxing/GR Box was founded in 2002 through the efforts of Roy Schmidt, Herschell Turner, Henry Mast, Jim Riekse, Bill Lewis, and Jose Reyna,...all former boxers or boxing fans...to provide an opportunity for inner city kids to have ...


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