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Going the Distance to Provide Mentoring for Local Youth

Going the Distance to Provide Mentoring for Local Youth

Sugar Ray Robinson, considered by many the greatest boxing champion of all time, once said: “Rhythm is everything in boxing. Every move you make starts with your heart, and that’s in rhythm or you’re in trouble.” And helping at-risk youths stay in the right rhythm with life is at the heart of a new mentoring program at SJC Boxing, a fixture on the youth athletic scene in Fort Myers for more than 30 years – where it’s all about community, teaching the values of hard work and providing a sense of family.

“Too many kids today start on a wayward path beginning as early as middle school,” says Steve Canton, the founder/president of SJC Boxing and a member of the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame. “We want to help prevent that by providing an alternative.”

The gym’s program is designed to serve middle school and high school youth who could benefit from positive role models, supervised after-school health-and-fitness-related activities, mentoring to help them through challenging times and academic tutoring.

Youths the center supports often find themselves in difficult home situations, which can negatively impact their performance in school and result in self-esteem, confidence and behavioral issues that create a spiral that can lead to trouble with the juvenile justice system. The mentoring program is designed to counter that ruinous path among at-risk youth, particularly those whose mistakes have resulted in involvement with the courts and need to turn things around.

Mr. Canton, who has been involved in the sport of boxing since age 11, says a key is instilling self-confidence, resilience and a recognition that goals in life can be achieved through commitment, hard work and dedication.

“There are often limited options for youth involved with the juvenile justice system,” he says. “They lack confidence in their future, which makes them prone to being convinced to engage in activities that can negatively affect the rest of their lives. And because of the problems associated with juvenile offenders, many programs distance themselves from providing services to them, so those who need support and guidance the most don’t always get the opportunity.”

Mr. Canton, who has seen the gym’s family atmosphere help put countless at-risk youth on positive paths over his many years in Southwest Florida, saw a need to provide after-school access during the hours between when classes end and the gym typically opens at 6 p.m.

“I didn’t want them to get out of school and then have to wait,” Mr. Canton says, noting the gap in hours could be an invitation to bad decisions and trouble. “So we’re going to provide the opportunity to come right from school directly to the gym.”

And it’s about much more than boxing. “We’re here to teach them about life,” he says. “We have athletes in the sport who’ve trained here and who have come from the same types of challenging beginnings as some of these kids. They’ve gone out and achieved success in all walks of life, and they’re now giving back to encourage these kids that they can do it too.”

In addition to mentoring and inspiration, participants receive an hour of academic tutoring to help them in school, two hours of boxing training and health and fitness guidance. Additionally, they’re tasked with the responsibility to pitch in and clean up the gym after themselves. They also receive personal training equipment, a healthy meal, and there’s transportation for youth who require it.

The organization is coordinating with the Lee County School System on academic tutoring and as a referral source to identify students who could benefit from the program. Other referrals come from past and present members of the gym, youth-focused organizations, city programs and the court system.

Mr. Canton says the unwavering support of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation has been crucial during months of disruption and uncertainty.

“They’ve been phenomenal. First, in terms of the flexibility of using grant money designated for the mentor program for operating expenses if needed to get through what we’re experiencing so we can implement the program at the right time with renewed funds. And they’ve stayed in contact since the beginning, offering support. We know the community will be taken care of properly because of the goodness of the Foundation. They are so invaluable in the area.”

Although the outbreak of COVID-19 has delayed the mentoring program’s opening bell, SJC Boxing is squarely in the corner of local youth, ready to go the distance to support their development and to teach them valuable traits they can use as bedrocks of success in their lives.

For more information, please visit, or call (239) 275-5275.

This article is part of a summer series that highlights the vital work of regional recipients of 2020 Community Impact Grants from the Southwest Florida Community Foundation.


About the Southwest Florida Community Foundation

The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Foundation partners with individuals, families and corporations who have created more than 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, the Foundation invested $7.7 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of $134.9 million, it has provided $85 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan. The Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s regional headquarters are now located in the historic ACL Train Depot at Collaboratory in downtown Fort Myers, with a satellite office located in LaBelle (Hendry County). For more information, call 239-274-5900 or visit

Southwest Florida Community Foundation
Southwest Florida Community Foundation

Our ambition is a more vibrant community that will continually address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties in Southwest Florida. We invite you to join our family and invest in the community with us!