A new boxing program in town is designed to help kids fight against whatever circumstances may hold them back.
The Fort Dodge Youth Development Program will train kids ages 7 through 21 in boxing and physical fitness, but its real purpose is to pair at-risk youth with a mentor, said Program Coordinator Eric Jones.
"As a result of a vital relationship with a suitable mentor, participants will develop positive social skills, increase self-worth, and make a healthy lifestyle their priority," according to the group's mission statement.
Anthony Jones, left, spends some time with Samahj Henderson, 10, during a recent afternoon at The REC.
The group draws inspiration from Jeremy Williams, the Fort Dodge native who recently won the World Boxing Union heavyweight title, and his father, coach Charles Williams.
Jones and other group founders know the importance of training young people from personal experience.
"Some of us came from foster care, some of us came from not-so-favorable family circumstances, some of us have been in trouble with law," he said. "Unfortunately, we have a system out there that is not really geared towards rehabilitation or restoration; it's just punitive in nature.
"I was fortunate. I was incarcerated and I had someone mentor me. I have two graduate degrees now. I have a master's in counseling, and I'm finishing my doctor's in theology. But that was all given to me by caring people.
"All this came about because someone chose to take an interest in Eric when he was at his bottom."
Jones came to Fort Dodge working on a project at the Correctional Facility, but it wasn't working out.
"I had decided I would shut down everything and go back home," Jones said. "The same day, (Charles Williams) came walking into my office. We've been together ever since."
Williams helped Jones find his new focus on youth.
"It's harder to save someone when they're already in the fire. Why not be proactive in preventing that fire, and preventing those individuals from entering into the fire?" he said.
"If we fix the family, we fix the community. If we fix the community, we fix the town. We fix the town, we fix the state, and so forth."
The group hopes that kids will see Jeremy Williams' success and know what good things can come out of Fort Dodge.
"We are investing that knowledge we gleaned through our involvement with Jeremy's dad and Jeremy and others, into what we see as Fort Dodge's most valuable future," said Jones.
He also hopes the program will help kids develop their full athletic potential.
"We are very interested in individuals who may be interested in going to the 2016 Olympics," he said.
The group's executive trainer is boxer Anthony Jones, no relation to Eric Jones. He until recently lived in Long Beach, Calif., and trained with Charles Williams. When Williams went back to Fort Dodge, Anthony Jones eventually decided to come too.
"He came out here from Long Beach not really knowing where he was going, because he wanted to help," said Eric Jones
"Eric called me and told me about everything they had going on out here," said Anthony Jones. "So I just dropped everything to come out here."
The Youth Development Program is registered as a 501(c)3 nonprofit, Eric Jones said.
"We work predominantly without a budget. We're paying for things out of our own pockets. None of our workers are paid," he said. "We need individuals who would come forward as mentors."
Mentors will agree to a 15-month commitment to the program and receive training. They must be at least 25 years old and pass an extensive screening process.
The group has an agreement to operate from the Fort Dodge REC Center, and its headquarters are at 726 First Ave. N. For more information on becoming a mentor or signing up a child, call 955-1693.