A new Turlock nonprofit, Off the Hook Ministries, is aiming to bring a boxing facility to Columbia Park to provide at risk youth a physical outlet while also building community in the area.
“We want to minister to gang members, felons and addicts primarily on the Westside and any youth at risk for those activities,” said Executive Director Sandy Hazenberg.
To do this, the nonprofit has plans for a three-pronged approach: create a tutoring center, offer workforce training, and begin a boxing program. While each of these programs is in their preliminary stages, Hazenberg is eager to offer new resources to a community of youth and young adults that often need direction.
“I have a heart for these young men that are involved in gangs and not in the workforce. My heart is for them to get off the drugs and not need to participate in illegal activities in order to survive,” said Hazenberg.
Plans for the tutoring center include helping students with homework, teaching them how to play an instrument, as well as offering a healing arts program.
“The goal is to help them express themselves before they turn to drugs to cope with their feelings,” said Hazenberg.
The job training, called Work it Out, is targeted at those 18 and older interested in entering the work force. With the aim of helping gang members, felons, and drop-outs make “clean” money, Work it Out will offer classes on conflict resolution, drug and alcohol addiction awareness, finance management, and more. There are requirements though, as interested individuals must be clean for 30 days and drug tests can be administered along the way.
“If they pass all of that we will set them up with a job interview with a company,” said Hazenberg.
Off the Hook was formally sanctioned as a 501(c)3 in April, though the concept was conceived of last fall. Hazenberg and her husband planted the church EQUIP on the Westside of Turlock six years ago and though the nonprofit is a separate entity, the idea of Off the Hook was born at a pastoral meeting at the church.
Hazenberg said she is in the “partnership making” phase of program development and hopes to connect with local partners such as Turlock Adult School, Turlock Christian High School, and California State University, Stanislaus for the development of the tutoring and workforce training programs.
Another partner that she has been collaborating with is the City of Turlock as the nonprofit has looked into rehabbing the former site of the Police Activities League building at Columbia Park for the boxing facility.
“We want that building because that is the area of town that we want to reach out to,” explained Itzel Villalobos, an Off the Hook board member and boxer who is set to serve as an instructor at the future facility.
The nonprofit’s program is titled Knock Out Fitness and Hazenberg said they hope to offer mixed martial arts to 6 through 11 year olds while those 12 and older can utilize the boxing gym. However, the aim is not just physical fitness, but to give the participants a place to get off of the streets and channel the angst that often accompanies teenagers’ development.
“Because we are a ministry, we will also be incorporating exercise, nutrition, and the importance of taking care of yourself as well as what the Bible says about that,” said Hazenberg, who is a licensed biblical counselor.
However, there are several steps that need to be taken before the kids of the Westside neighborhoods will be throwing punches. The building at Columbia Park would need to be updated in order to become compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements and upgrades need to be made to the restrooms, air-conditioning, and heating units. Plus, the Turlock City Council would have to approve the project, which is not slated to come before the council members until the fall. One promising prospect is that the project is eligible for Community Development Block Grant funding due to its gang prevention mission.
“There are grant funds available to rehab the building, but there is a process we have to go through,” explained Assistant to the City Manager for Housing and Economic Development Maryn Pitt.
CDBG dollars cannot be committed to a project until an environmental assessment is completed – one step that alone can take 30 days to complete.
“We have to amend our plans, which requires a hearing process, to expend those dollars and at this point we are just not that far along,” explained Pitt. “It’s a process.”
While the project is in its genesis both for the City and Off the Hook Ministries, in the meantime the nonprofit will continue its mission in other ways, ministering to the youth and adults ready for change on the Westside of Turlock.