Project Fighting Chance Faces High Fees
By Dianne Anderson
When push comes to shove, Project Fighting Chance is worried about what to do with the kids.
Like most small nonprofits, the last thing they can afford is a monthly outlay set to balloon three times what they have been paying for years for their space at the Home of Neighborly Service on the Westside of San Bernardino.
Terry Boykins, executive director of the nonprofit, said the $500 to $1,500 monthly fee hike for the prized local boxing program feels like a punch in the face.
Even if they had a place to relocate on such short notice by the August 31 deadline, there are several tons of boxing and gym equipment, school furniture, and a full boxing ring with no staff to help move or box it up.
The nonprofit program serves about 100 kids – nearly equally Black and Brown boys and youth, and many of them have personally rolled up their sleeves to work on big improvement projects on the grounds.
“We did the interior and exterior painting on the building. We also cleaned all the overgrown shrubs all over the building. We moved all of their [Home of Neighborly Service] storage. They required us to pay out of our pockets to remove their belongings to the dump site,” Boykins said.
Since coming on the property, he said a lot of energy and money has been invested into improvement projects, but he said Home of Neighborly Service claims their fee increase reflects the increase in market value.
Boykins said his program has been paying out of pocket for contractors to come in. Just two weeks ago, they laid new carpeting, and some of the youth pitched in and worked.
“After our youth program invested to improve, now we’re being asked to pay or move,” he said. “Now they want us to pay market value for the market value that we created.”
The pay or vacate notice came as a complete surprise, he said. While there is no formal rent or lease agreement, he said their Memorandum of Understanding for $500 a month is not set to expire until July of next year.
At this point, he’s not sure where the kids, who are regular participants in the year-round after-school programs, will go, especially since safe-haven free programs are few on the Westside.
Founded by Ian Franklin over 20 years ago, the boxing approach has been so successful, that their PBS special documentary, “The Hopefuls,” followed their program around the country to chart how the boxing has changed the community for the better.
The program serves local underserved youth from eight to 18 years with life skills, boxing techniques, homework help, mental and nutritional health support, violence intervention, as well as gang and drug prevention.
A few of their numerous accolades are 16 National Champions, two Olympic trial participants and one Olympic Alternate. In 2018, five athletes ranked number one in the U.S., including current athlete Terry Washington, who is also a seven-time national champion.
For now, the program is located in the back eastside building, one of two buildings near the parking lot at the back of the historic cobblestone building at 839 N. Mt. Vernon Ave in San Bernardino.
Since they came in, he said their nonprofit also laid granite for a tranquility garden that the boys created.
“The kids planted the garden with bell peppers, the zucchini, the tomatoes, but we didn’t just do the garden. It is the use of our resources, our volunteers, our donations,” he said.
He said that Project Fighting Chance has proof of all the bills they paid, not just waste disposal, but every contractor or supplier from 2016 to current.
From the start, he knew that clean up was part of the agreement, but it was endless. Boykins, who oversaw all projects, said the program came out of pocket heavily when they arrived, cleaning up drug paraphernalia and just about anything else imaginable.
After putting in so much time and effort over the years, Boykins is hopeful to remain at the Home of Neighborly Service, but he said no date or official meeting has been confirmed or scheduled.
HNS did not return requests for comment by press time.
Jay Martinez, a former tenant at the cobblestone building, was a program manager for another nonprofit that occupied the top floor, where he managed adult services, homeless resources, parenting classes, and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
In the evening, there were no adults, just youth.
“They had an open mic night, we helped get some youth in shelters. Some women were able to get out of the game with our human trafficking program, but we left well before COVID hit,” he said.
He said his program decided to leave the building because they felt the community was not being treated fairly there, and the staff at the building wanted the doors locked in the daytime with limited entrance to let the community access his upstairs program.
Martinez said the food distribution was limited, and the community was kept at arm’s length.
“They [HNS] have a huge auditorium where they set up food by the door. People were waiting in the sun, seniors, people in wheelchairs. They would call people five at a time to give them bags and shove them out the door,” he said.
As part of the agreement, Martinez said that his program also paid all bills while there, utilities, internet and phone, but getting the space habitable was costing too much.
“It was rat-infested and roach-infested. We sunk a lot of money getting the exterminator out there over and over and over,” he said. “The whole time I was there we were fighting rats and bugs,” he said.
Although he’s no longer at the building working, he still volunteers with Project Fighting Chance teaching the boys in the weekly chess club.
“Terry asked me how much do you want, I told him I don’t want anything. I see the benefit of his program to all these single-family headed households, young kids, and poor kids learning to box and play chess. They’re working their minds and bodies,” he said.
For more information, see https://projectfightingchance.org/boxing