Former boxer's nonprofit using the ring to help at-risk kids battle life's challenges
BRISBANE -- A former boxer has spent the last 20 years training at-risk children in the sport that gave him a fighting chance at life off the streets.
For Jimmy Ford, the sport of boxing was not just limited to the ring for a child growing up in a tough San Francisco neighborhood.
"I grew up boxing. I knew as a kid, it saved my life plenty of times," Ford said.
He started his first boxing club under the bleachers at San Francisco's Crocker Amazon Park in 2003. He called it Fire in the Ring.
"I had so many kids. I had a total of 48 kids," he said, showing framed photos of the early days of the club.
As the boxing club grew, Ford expanded to the Peninsula. Today, Fire in the Ring is headquartered in a Brisbane warehouse.
Each year, as many as 300 young people come to his free afterschool nonprofit. Volunteer coaches mentor and train kids aged 6 to 17 who are at-risk like Ford once was.
"When I was in the gym I was never in trouble," said Ford. "When I left the gym, I was always in trouble."
Ford works as a painter for the San Francisco Water Power Sewer. But in his off-hours, he's got his gloves on teaching kids the ropes.
"I just want to see what they become years later," said Ford. "Ain't gotta be a title and all that stuff. Productive members of society."
Take Fe Conway's son Andre, who's in the Air Force. From age 8 through his teens, Fire in the Ring built his character.
"He didn't quit. And the main thing, he said, was confidence," said Conway.
Another longtime Fire in the Ring participant, Charlie Sheehy, is now a professional boxer. He started at Ford's gym at 9 years old. The afterschool program swung him in the right direction.
"It taught me hard work, giving my all to something, that I can achieve anything I want in life," said Sheehy.
The success stories reflect back on Ford himself, if you ask volunteer trainer and longtime friend Andy Nance.
"He has basically the eye of the tiger to help out kids," Nance said. "His heart is bigger than him."
But Ford gives the credit to dozens of people who have not swayed in their support, especially during the nonprofit's financial struggles during the pandemic.
"This is not about me. This is about us. We're under God's umbrella," said Ford. "Hopefully what I give to these kids, they eventually help another kid later on in life. Change the game of life."
For creating a safe haven for young people to find their fire in the ring, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Jimmy Ford.
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