09/02/07 — Pair hope downtown gym project will stop youth violence

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Pair hope downtown gym project will stop youth violence

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 2, 2007 2:00 AM

Steve Smith has his sights set on using fitness to battle the rash of juvenile violence in the community.

All he needs is a little help.

Smith, director and chief executive officer of Wayne County Enrichment and Fitness Center, said he has been working on the idea of a fitness and enrichment facility for adults and youths for almost five years and hopes others will get on board.

Finding the right venue and money to run it are two of the obstacles he faces.

"We just haven't found the right conduits for flow of money to assist us with a building," he said.

"The most difficult thing is finding a building that's usable and funding to get us going," said Doug Behrend, chairman of the board of directors for the center.

"We have an idea for a gym. ... We would like to see the opportunity to have a center that can bring kids off the street and give them some structure and discipline, with boxing as the hook or the catch."

The men have already spoken with several other local agencies, including police and the military, about the effort.

"We would like to be able to think we would have an impact on gang problems and other things affecting youth in Wayne County," Behrend said.

The recent National Night Out event gave them a taste of the level of interest in such a plan. The group set up a table with a video presentation and other information about the boxing program, a prototype of which already exists in Raleigh.

"It was the first real exposure, what we would like to do." Behrend said. "We had kids lined up for three hours.

"We pulled up a little after 5 o'clock, started taking stuff out of my trunk and it wasn't a minute, there were kids asking if they could help. At 8:30, 9 o'clock, we had kids hanging around, helping us take things down. It made you feel really good."

The enthusiasm sparked was inspiring.

"Even in that little space of time, there was enough interest like, I can't believe this is really happening," Behrend said.

Now, all they have to do is find the money.

Behrend said getting grant writers has been a challenge, but he knows that there is funding out there.

Their target location is downtown Goldsboro.

"Our target market is more of the underprivileged kids, even though drop-offs are fine. We want it to be a walkable distance from the target market," Behrend said. "The little Renaissance we have got with downtown Goldsboro would be ideal for this."

Once a building can be secured, he believes progress will quicken.

"When we get into a physical place, we have several people that have volunteered. We would like to think there's a very large market of volunteers in Wayne County," he said. "They don't necessarily have to be boxers or athletic people."

In the future, Behrend said he envisions running the program two or three nights a week, giving youths something to look forward to doing in the evenings.

Smith, who has a background in boxing, said the idea originated from once helping a young man train, who went on to achieve a sense of purpose, both in and outside of the ring.

"More young kids came to a small gym on Slocumb Street several years ago than the front of the gym could hold," he said.

"Why? To deter young men from juvenile delinquency ... Through the process of establishing a boxing club, we have realized that there are a myriad of problems that need to be addressed in the community that could be served through the center."

To find out more about the potential program or to volunteer to be part of the activities once the center opens, the e-mail address is waynecountyefc@bellsouth.net.