LAS VEGAS — Music blasts on the gym stereo as Steven Call rolls a giant tire across the floor and hands two sledgehammers to Adrian Bernard and Jason Valencia.
It’s warm and loud, but the men drown out the distractions as they swing at the tire in unison, switching arms between each deep breath.
Call, 41, runs Relentless Youth Boxing Club, a nonprofit organization uses boxing as an outlet for troubled individuals.
“I consider anyone who’s younger than me a ‘youth’,” Call said. “I have kids who are 11 to guys who are 30. ”
A marine veteran, Call worked as a drill instructor for a juvenile felon boot camp. He provides physical training and mental guidance for troubled individuals.
“I’m very comfortable around the type of kids that people don’t want to be around because they’re so rough,” Call said. “The worst-case scenarios are the kids I have the most success with.”
According to Call, he works with clients that typically have criminal records, behavioral issues, drug problems or broken families.
“These kids are products of Sin City. You have to be unorthodox to get through to them,” Call said. “You can’t put them in little classrooms and expect them to learn that way. You have to grab them to reach them.”
In addition to mentoring and boxing, Call also helps clients write job resumes and practice interview skills. He offers to drive them to interviews and lend them suits.
If clients are homeless, Call brings them to his home to feed them, wash their clothes, offer hot showers and give them medicine.
“Kids grow into adults based on their reference points,” Call said. “ If they were never shown what a good reference is, you can’t expect them to know now just because they’re adults.”
According to Call, his wife and 6-year-old son support his outreach because they know the type of person he is.
“I try to show these guys a good male role model and what it takes to be a real man and get your stuff straight,” Call said. “I get my wife and son involved because (the clients) need to see what an intact, sound family looks like.”
“Plus, it’s important that I show my son the mentality of giving back to society.”
Call started the organization in his one-car garage in 2010 by posting ads for workout partners on Craigslist. His first client was a 19-year-old teen who was recovering from a drug overdose.
“(My client) started inviting his buddies out to train with us, and I began to see the progress in them,” Call said. “I knew it was something I had to do. I felt compelled to help these kids out.”
In the organization’s heyday, Call trained 35 to 40 clients and was featured in a small segment on HBO. However, tension between Call and the gym owner caused Call to move the program.
“Boxing is not a money making business, so when you try to run a program at someone else’s gym, you have to take a backseat to what makes them money,” Call said. “I can’t be extremely successful with developing these kids unless I have a private facility.”
Though Call remains in contact with all his clients, most stopped training because they don’t have transportation to the facility.
“I did take probably a four-month hiatus because it was discouraging, and I wanted to put effort back into my own family,” Call said. “Within the last couple weeks, I’ve had so many people call me needing help for their kid that it’s prompting me to do something again.”
Desiree Andresen contacted Call about a year ago to help her son Alijah Shumpert, 14, gain independence and overcome bullying at school.
“(Alijah) was messing up in school, but he’s not a bad kid at all,” Andresen said. “I’m a single mother, and I think he just needed a positive male role model in his life.”
Call made a deal with Alijah to train him if he kept his room clean, kept his grades up and stayed out of trouble.
“If he wasn’t meeting the agreement, he paid for it in training,” Call said. “The worse he was doing, the harder he got pushed. It gave him some incentive to follow our agreement.”
According to Andresen, she saw improvement in Alijah’s confidence and strength within the first month.
“He’s a lot more open and doesn’t shut himself in his room anymore,” Andresen said. “We hang out 24/7 now. Our relationship has become the best it has ever been in our entire lives.”
Call’s goal is to run the organization full-time and work with schools and correctional facilities throughout the Las Vegas valley.
“Three years and countless hours, and I’ve never taken a penny from anyone,” Call said. “This is all while having a full-time job and being a full-time dad and husband.”
“For me, this is more than just boxing. It’s mentally developing those who need it.”
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Caitlyn Belcher is a reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.