Salvation Army boxing club hits at-risk youth.

For 10 years, the Double Punches Boxing Club has been operating an afterschool program for at-risk youth at The Salvation Army’s Santa Rosa, California, Corps. Director Richard Lopez had the idea for the program 15 years earlier and began training kids to box out of his garage. The boxing club grew and is now an important ministry of the Santa Rosa Corps, servicing 30 to 40 people every day. It is a safe place where kids and adults alike can come to learn self-discipline and self-confidence.

“We are reaching out into our neighborhood, into our city and in the communities here where there’s a heavy crime area. We tell the kids that they can come and get boxing lessons but we’re more than just boxing,” Lopez said. “We promote self-esteem, social responsibility and character. Because a lot of kids out there, they don’t have a structure and we give them a structure where they can learn how to be better people.”

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Lopez and his wife, Assistant Director Maria Lopez, are committed to making Double Punches a sanctuary from the often-chaotic world outside the doors. “They come here for comfort,” Richard Lopez said. “It’s like a safe zone where they can come in and feel relaxed, let down their guard. They don’t have to walk with an ego like they’re doing out in the streets.”

When they feel safe, Maria Lopez said, “they open up and that allows for the coaches to deposit something in their heart that’s going to change them.”

The Lopezes are committed to meeting the physical, mental and spiritual needs of their students. In addition to boxing training, club members are provided with academic tutoring and spiritual mentoring. “You want to work out physically, mentally. Once you get those two you feel good, but there’s something missing,” Richard Lopez said. “That’s the spiritual part.” The goal is that “they leave different, they have a change of heart…people see that they’re not the same kid anymore,” he said.

This transformation extends beyond the lives of the students. “We see the kids changing. We see parents changing. Parents who weren’t engaging with their kids are engaging with their kids today,” Lopez said. The positive impact of this program is being recognized in the wider community as well. “We’re getting referrals from the court; we’re getting referrals from probation. Teachers are sponsoring their youth to come here.”

Perhaps the best way to trace the lasting effect of this ministry is by talking with some of the former students. “Some of the students that started with us, grew up, left, and now they’re coming back and becoming volunteers, so they’re giving back to their community as well,” Maria Lopez said. This includes Enrique Gutierrez, who started with Double Punches when he was 12. A former number one ranked boxing champion, Gutierrez is now in his 30s and he volunteers regularly with the program. “Richard Lopez has done a lot for me and for my family,” Gutierrez said.

The Lopezes, surrounded by their staff and volunteers, are grateful for the opportunity to impact the next generation with their unique ministry. “It’s been a blessing to us, reaching out to the community,” he said.