A boxing club in Highland encourages youth to become champions in the ring — and for their community.
Tony Collins Cifuentes grew up in Highland, where he admits to getting into trouble as a kid. He funneled that energy into boxing and straightened out his life. Then he decided that he could do something even more meaningful with his skills.
“I was working, doing well and getting paid good money, but working in corporate America wasn’t for me,” Cifuentes said. “God told me to open a gym and help the kids that I could make a difference for.”
Highlanders Boxing Club opened in 2005 and now serves about 50 youths, ranging from 8 to their early 20s. Some of the young boxers have competed at the state level, in Olympic trials and professionally. More importantly, they become better citizens, Cifuentes said.
“I tell them, ‘one team, one fight’ and that no matter what happens out there or at home, this is the place you can come and feel safe and protected,” Cifuentes said. “And everything you learn here, you have to take it home. If you have to listen to coach, you have to listen to your mom or dad, too.”
Soon, the programming became more than just boxing.
The organization focuses on strengthening the neighborhood through gang intervention, mentorship and community service. This year, the Highlanders Boxing Club has been involved in 39 events and programs that include working with the Urban Conservation Corps, health fairs, gang intervention clinics, life skills and clean ups for the neighborhood.
“When kids started asking me, ‘Hey coach, can you help me with my homework?’ it started to become more about giving back,” Cifuentes said. “It became a community center.”
Youths that get involved with the Highlanders Boxing Club often turn their life around, Cifuentes said.
The San Bernardino County Probation Department sometimes sends youths with minor infractions to the club to put in hours rather than serving time. The direction and discipline, as well as the supportive environment, have a positive impact on their attitude and motivation, organizers said. Often these youths later graduate from high school, get jobs and become contributing members of the community.
The club, which is supported by residents and businesses, recently received a grant from the Youth Grantmakers Program at The Community Foundation. Finding funding is challenging, Cifuentes said.
“We don’t get big grants because people really think it’s just about boxing, but it is much more than that,” Cifuentes said. “If we had more funding and more help from other organizations, we could do even more.”
The next big community service event is the Highlanders Boxing Club’s 11th Annual Toy Drive. Last year, the organization gave 3,000 toys to needy youths. The event will be at the gym on Friday, Dec. 21, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Local residents and those from nearby cities are welcome and will receive one toy per child while they last.
Anyone interested in donating toys can drop them off by the date of the event.
Cifuentes also invites the community to visit the gym to see the club’s impact on youths.
“I want everyone to know that this place is amazing,” Cifuentes said. “And if you want to volunteer your time to coach, help with homework, or teach clinic about life skills, it can help so much.”
The club is at 26127 6th St., Highland.
Information: 909-496-0710 or highlandersboxingclub.org.