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Stories of Impact

Learning Initiatives

Pivoting in the Pandemic to Help Families Thrive with Downtown Boxing Gym

“We had to reimagine our programming in the pandemic. The Walters Family Foundation actively listened to our needs and jumped in to help us create solutions.”

Jessica Hauser, Executive Director, Downtown Boxing Gym

Detroit, MI (November 2021)The COVID-19 pandemic proved to be an incredibly challenging time for students, parents and teachers alike. The stressors of online schooling and work-from-home set-ups created less than ideal environments for families. Luckily, spaces like the Downtown Boxing Gym (DBG) exist, a free academic and athletic program that provides Detroit students with the tools they need to succeed. Since 2007, the organization has provided tutoring, mentorship, enrichment programs, college and career prep, social-emotional skills building, and basic needs support.

During the pandemic, DBG needed to pivot its programming to help students and their parents stay on track. “The first step was to meet families’ basic needs. This was a non-negotiable,” says Hauser. “The problem was that the food banks were overextended, so we were not getting supplies donated at the same rate that we did before pandemic. That’s when the Walters Family Foundation stepped in.” With emergency COVID support from the Walters Family Foundation, the Downtown Boxing Gym was able to create and deliver weekly care packages with fresh produce, prepared meals, pantry staples, essential hygiene products and cleaning supplies for the entire family.

DBG also provided educational activity boxes and laptops to students without access to technology at home. “From day one, we ran virtual mentoring and tutoring sessions,” says Hauser. “We streamed follow-along science experiments. We continued to make our attendance mandatory, a standard was really helpful with the continuity of programming.”

Books before boxing is Downtown Boxing Gym's motto.Download a high-resolution version of this photo.

DBG also focused on physical and mental health. The organization ran daily virtual workouts, checked in with families by phone to monitor student progress, and facilitated therapy sessions to guide families through anxiety and stress. “Luckily our kids did not have the slide that others experienced,” says Hauser. “I think it’s because they stayed committed to themselves and we continued to hold them to a standard that they rose to.”

When mandatory shutdown order lifted, DBG safely re-opened its facility, and is now in full swing serving more than 150 students. Its new library is an exciting addition, providing more DBG students with space to learn, grow and study together. This massive project was funded by a Walters Family Foundation grant in 2019 and has enabled DBG to create incredible cost efficiencies. What was once a $7,500 heating bill has been reduced to $250 per month!

“Students are beyond ecstatic that they now have a comfortable place to study,” says Hauser. “It is so important for kids to be able to feel psychologically and physically safe, and to have a beautiful study space to focus.”

With its revamped surroundings and reimagined programming, DBG continues to reach high standards experiencing a student graduation rate of 100 percent. Hauser says, “We have the ability in our space to be individualized and provide any and all support that's needed. Our kids deserve it.”