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This article was published 21/10/2010 (3827 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Pan Am Boxing Club is hoping its biggest-ever expansion will help get at-risk kids off the ropes and prepare them for the game of life.
The Exchange District facility plans to open a comprehensive youth housing and recreational project in various stages over the next nine months.
The nearly $500,000 endeavour, to be called Pan Am Place, is already underway at 88 Arthur St., next door to its longtime home at 245 McDermot Ave.
The 10,000-square-foot building will be anchored by a full-scale boxing gym in the basement, which will be used by Pan Am Place residents as well as overflow for the 500 members of boxing club. The top two floors will feature hostel-style lodging for a total of 30 young men aged 18 to 24 plus independent suites for supervisors, who will be on hand from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. each day. The second floor will serve as a combination community kitchen and study hall, and will include work stations, computers, a small library as well as a place for residents to learn about proper nutrition and how to cook meals.
"I don't think there's anything else like this in Canada," said Sue Scott, project manager for Pan Am Place and the club's director of promotions.
The gym is scheduled to open next month and the plan is for the entire project to be open by early next summer.
Pan Am will interview applicants and consider their needs for housing, food, security and safety as well as their fitness and attitude, and accept those who are most in need.
The plan is for the young men to live at Pan Am Place for six months to a year, during which time they should be able to establish a solid base of physical and mental health, before heading out on their own. They will all be required to join the boxing club, complete a fitness component and mentor new kids coming into the program.
"We're trying to get in between where they are and where they're going," said Harry Black, president of Pan Am Boxing. "They might be pointed down the gang route, dropped out of school or have disastrous home lives. We don't want to be their parents but we can give them positive influences early on. It can be life-changing."
"We're going to treat them like athletes. We're going to give them counselling and mentoring so the likelihood of them getting off track is much lower."
Plans for the first floor are still up in the air but Richard Walls, owner of 88 Arthur St., said he'd like to see any combination of a sports medicine clinic, doctor's office, dietician, grocery store or a dentist move in to serve not only the Pan Am Place residents but fill a need for the surrounding community.
Walls is no stranger to inner-city redevelopment. In 2005, he transformed the Occidental Hotel, home to the toughest bar on Main Street, into the Red Road Lodge, which rents out its rooms to physically, mentally or addictively disabled people.
St. Boniface Coun. Dan Vandal, a former professional boxer, has toured Pan Am Place and said he'll do whatever he can to help make it a reality.
"I'm 100 per cent behind it. It gives an alternative to young people who are at risk and allows them to stabilize, take care of their physical needs and receive some counselling," he said.
Scott and Black are currently spearheading a number of fundraising efforts at the boxing club as well as getting some grants for Pan Am Place, but they are also hoping to land some corporate sponsorship. F.H. Black & Co., the accounting firm of which Black is managing partner, is already in.
"Charity starts at home. Companies could sponsor individual kids in the program and when they want to check on their investment, they could come see him work out, go to school or have lunch with him," Black said.