A successful but unorthodox program that combines boxing and art to help get young people focused on productive activities is getting a new home in Dunkirk, and is also branching out to reach the Jamestown area.
Tommy Roque and Chuck Ruffino have been teaching children the two skills through the Community Action Center as part of Chautauqua Opportunities Inc.
"We have kids between the ages of 8 and 15. We have 22 state champions, two regional champions, three Niagara District champions, four Junior Olympic champions and two Golden Glove open class champions," Roque said.
The program, in its fourth year, has been operating out of an unheated barn. The Chautauqua County Legislature last week agreed to lease the program a county-owned building on Lucas Avenue.
"We don't go looking for them. They come to us," Ruffino said. "We don't call them at-risk. To us they are kids at-promise."
"I call Tommy the Dr. Martin Luther King of Second Street because the kids relate to him so well. The kids decide to come to us. They have a great sense of character," Ruffino said.
Ruffino teaches drawing, while the 6-foot 4-inch Roque teaches boxing. They also have a tutoring program.
The group does art shows to help raise money for the boxing matches.
"You would be surprised by how many of Tommy's boxers can draw," Ruffino said. "I consider them all to be gifted and talented, though they haven't been treated as such."
"A lot of these kids expect themselves to fail. But we pump 'em up and build up their self-esteem, and they do some beautiful kinds of art work," he said. "We don't kick kids out. We kick them back in."
Roque already has signed up 50 young people from Jamestown to participate in a fledgling version of the USA Boxing program, to be run through the Joint Neighborhood Project.
"I had a father call me from Jamestown and ask, 'When are you coming to Jamestown?' I told him we'll be there in about two weeks," Roque said.
"We're not just teaching them boxing and art," he added. "We're teaching them life."