PVJOBS on Main St. provides training and job placement for careers in construction for at-risk Angelenos. Applicants must meet certain requirements such as a history of substance abuse and have been referred from a partnered advocacy group.
LACMA has a special library program where representatives go to libraries throughout Los Angeles and teach art to children and their families for free. At the Junipero Serra Library, children are taught art techniques such as drawing, painting and sculpting. However, the purpose of the program is not just to teach kids art skills; itís also about exposing the kids to culture and getting them to interact with one another.
St. Paulís Baptist Church, once the center of a thriving African American community, is now struggling to financially survive and attract new members in what has now become a primarily Hispanic neighborhood. Yet new life is flowing through the sanctuary as hundreds of homeless come every Sunday to eat breakfast and many become regulars in the services, bible study classes and choirs.
Descending into an unkempt basement in the heart of South Central Los Angeles, an ex-fighter sweeps an inch of dust off a worn-out boxing ring; for almost 10 years it lay neglected along with a dozen heavy punching bags; that was until last Monday.
The room was grimy; discolored paint peeled off the walls, and wooden planks blocked the sunlight from breaking through the shattered windows, but Alvaro Soto finally found the gym he was looking for.
Soto and Jesus Avila, both trainers, opened up the boxing gym to motivate youngsters in the community to keep their punches in the ring and off the streets.
A new makeshift sign currently hangs below the vandalized entrance reading, "Methodist Boxing School," and a group of adolescents eagerly distribute yellow fliers to promote the new gym.
The basement is now filled with sounds of grunting and thumping, battling the blast of pop music and ringing bells.
One boy furiously jabs at his trainer's punching pad, rapidly swinging one arm after the other, while shuffling back and forth on the podium; another skips till his sweat trickles down his neck and soaks his oversized gray sweater.
Richard Garcia, a muscular 15-year-old, sat down to take his gloves off after hours of striking heavy blows and dodging punches. Wearing a tattered bean hat with his hands still wrapped in tape, Garcia said he's proud of himself for being here.
"I was really messing up in school and I was into all that drug stuff," Garcia admitted.
Soto pointed to Garcia as one of the boys he found hanging around at the street corner. Garcia started training a week ago but now says his dream is to become a professional boxer and make money.
Soto, 38, remembers when he used to waste time in parks with his friends; a few of them went into gangs, but he avoided their path by getting involved in a boxing gym.
"I've seen a couple of kids, you know, hanging around in the streets, and I started remembering those days, and then I just thought that was a pretty good idea to keep those kids away from the street, and then have them find some discipline in boxing," said Soto.
Soto retired from professional fighting to have his own family, but still trains boxers and is a skilled carpenter on the side.
Avila, a 29-year-old aerospace machinist, had a similar story growing up in Compton where he boxed since the age of 8.
While gripping tight a heavyweight bag as a tireless boy gave his best hit, Avila described how some of his friends joined gangs after his gym closed down; three of them got killed. Avila still wonders whether keeping the gym opened would have averted their deaths.
Avila immediately agreed to join the project when Soto approached him two weeks before opening the gym; it was a chance for him to help kids similar to the friends he grew up with.
Soto first discussed the idea with a Methodist pastor while on vacation in Tennessee. After returning to Los Angeles he found out about the abandoned gym that was once the home of the Rakestraw Memorial Community Education Center and belongs to the Wesley United Methodist Church next door. Soto negotiated a deal with the church to rent the facility for free the first month.
The fitness center is open to boys and girls of all ages, and there are lessons every weekday. For either $15 a week or $50 a month, the trainers hope to attract members that can't afford a high-priced gym, while pledging to also offer an opportunity for those unable to pay the minimal amount.
Already in its first week, the center has over seven members sweating every evening, but the hard work isn't going to stop in the gym.
"If they're OK here and they don't do good in school I got to talk to their parents, and then they cannot come till I find that they got good grades, and then they're welcome back," Soto explained.
Soto hopes that bringing in kids off the street to box will help discipline them from their wayward lives. "I already got a couple of kids they used to be hanging around in the streets, they're not there no more, they're here," Soto added.
Beria Figueroa brought her son to the gym after seeing the sign outside. She said she's been looking for a boxing class for her son for a while, adding that there's nothing else in the community.
"I've being wanted to put my son in a place like that so he can stay out of trouble," said Figueroa.
Girls need to learn how to defend themselves too, noted 11-year-old Andrea Soto, the eldest of Alvaro Soto's three daughters.
Dressed in a purple shirt, with a matching purple headband, Andrea looked out-of-place as she quietly sat in the corner of the gym trying to finish her studies against the loud noises and interruptions. She's been helping her father by passing out flyers and volunteering her time at the gym.
Andrea admitted that in her middle school she had to defend herself many times on her own.
"At school all you see is fights and stuff and at least if you know how to box you learn how to block," Andrea explained. "If someone asks you, oh I'm going to fight you and this and that, you know how to walk away, and if they start you know how to block."
Over the next week, Soto and Avila plan on repainting the gym and fixing the bathroom. They expect more people to join, and hope to build another ring as the membership increases.
"I hope the next step is looking for a tournament and boxing shows, I got to wait for them to get ready to fight so I can let them know that they can get a trophy for being number one," said Soto.
"I want to put it in their brains that they can go to the Olympics."
The Methodist Boxing Gym is located at 5139 South Main Street, Los Angeles, CA.