After years of operating out of the old Police Athletic League building in Paul M. Pearson Gardens, the USVI Amateur Boxing Federation is moving into a new home, but there’s still lots of work to do.
Federation President Jose “Tony” Rosario said Wednesday the new site is a “neutral area” giving participants time to focus more on boxing and less on “distractions.”
Speaking to members of the St. Thomas Club of Rotary II Wednesday, Rosario outlined the realities of having the program in PMP Gardens, which is plagued by the same turf wars and violence as many other housing communities on island. Two of the program’s students have been mugged in the surrounding area in the past month and Rosario said it’s important for the federation now to be able to provide that a safe haven that will give them more stability.
Many of the students in the program come from single parent households, hail from neighborhoods where gang violence is the norm, or have parents that want them to participate but don’t want them to get hurt in the meantime.
“We’re not going to leave that gym in Pearson Gardens empty,” Rosario explained Wednesday. “There’s still a need to have a presence there. Just looking at the nine homicides we’ve had this year so far, you know the turf wars and the gang violence is real, and the kids need someone to be there for them. But there is a stigma attached to having the program in the housing project: a lot of parents don’t want to bring their kids there, they want to help their kids but not bring them into a place that has this kind of stuff going on.”
Rosario said the program’s new home in Estate Hope, in the old Massac Nursing Home, is far away but gives the students “nowhere else to go and no distractions but the gym.”
“And that’s what you need to be able to do, keep them focused on what they have to do and tune out what we call all that ‘extra noise,’” Rosario said.
For 16-year-old Vladimil Martinez-Reinosa, those distractions included the wrong group of friends in middle school.
“I was cussing the teachers, I was fighting, I was following bad friends and that really affected my life, but when I got involved with the boxing, it kind of changed everything,” Martinez-Reinosa said to the group Wednesday. “Tony became like a father to me, and I love that, and the others they kept me out of trouble. I had to learn to show respect, to be honest. Everything they do is for us, is helping us to move forward.”
Before getting involved with the program, Martinez-Reinosa spent a lot of time around the Lionel Roberts Stadium playing basketball. In recent days, two of his friends from the neighborhood were shot and killed, and Martinez-Reinosa said Wednesday that if it weren’t for boxing, he could have been next.
“Boxing was a turning point for me,” he said. “It kept me out of trouble, out of drugs and violence and I appreciate everything the program has done for me.”
Martinez-Reinosa was named by this year’s Night Out Against Violence Committee as the district’s most improved student,’
For Rosario, helping more students like Martinez-Reinosa also means getting the whole community involved in rebuilding the new gym, which he said was a shell before the Federation, its members and the students started cleaning it up.
“It’s a beautiful place,” he said. “We have a whole lot of work to do before it’s operational, but at least we have something. Now, we have people coming in to assess what we have to do, phase by phase to get it up and running, and we know that will take time. But we might have a contractor out there, a plumber, electrician or different people that could come in and help us do what we have to do and that’s the kind of help we’re asking for.”
The federation’s volunteer medic, Dr. Jerry Smith, got the ball rolling Wednesday by soliciting $1,000 in donations from Rotary Club members, which Rosario said would help with the cause. As the rebuilding continues, the program’s students will still be out there making as much use of the facility as they can.
“We want to do some planting, have the kids learning how to plant fruits and vegetables, maybe get a tilapia farm going,” Rosario said. “Where we are right now, we don’t have enough space to even go outside and relax, do activities with the kids. But we can now, and that is a wonderful feeling.”