Timo Nauer and Azrek Brown have been to the school of hard knocks – but the Billy Graham Youth Foundation’s boxing academies have changed their lives.

Eighteen-year-old Timo has his eyes set firmly on taking out the heavyweight division, but he knows his life could have gone in a completely different direction.

“It just kept me out of trouble, yeah just kept me on a steady routine of boxing,” he told 1News.

“I don’t have to worry about going out and doing all that stupid stuff, just go straight to the boxing gym after work or school when I was in school.”

He’s been taken under the wing of Cannons Creek Boxing academy manager Paegen Edmonds-Topia – “she looks after me and makes sure I don’t do anything stupid,” he said.

Fifteen-year-old Azrek Brown has left school and reckons he may have been in juvenile detention if he didn’t have the academy.

“It (boxing) gave me something to work on… I can zone in and think about myself a lot more instead of everything out you can focus on yourself a lot more, make yourself a lot better with boxing ,that’s what this does for me,” he said.

Edmonds-Topia said she is very rangatahi youth-driven driven and working with the young people in her neighbourhood means everything.

“I see a lot of the kids are just wanting something stable, people who love them people to help them in hard situations or just life in general, so I feel like me being a manager, yes I’m a manager however I feel like I am a counsellor, I’m a friend, I’m a mum”.

It’s a formula that works because the boxing academies are not just about boxing.

There are young people there from all walks of life and different socio-economic backgrounds, but when anyone new walks in they are given a sense of belonging.

Respect is important, along with good manners – and they are encouraged to pursue excellence.

Boxing champ Billy Graham set up the academy with the vision of giving back to his community. Now his son David has taken up the challenge of ensuring the best outcomes for the youth.

“The best possible outcome we think is to bring young people who have had a hard go at things – no kid wakes up one day and decides I am going to steal a car and ram it through a window that’s not how it works, young people are put in a situation where they’ve got so few options, they are excluded from this, excluded from that,” David said.

“Either we accept they are not going to be a part of our society and we push them to the fringe or we say right one at a time lets engage these young people and help to bring them into what we call good environment, good community.”

David Graham is adamant that solutions that work take time and short military-style boot camps aren’t going to bring about big changes in young offenders.

“Longevity that’s what has the impact… you can’t counteract 11-12 years of hardship and then go ‘right in 12 weeks we are going to turn this thing around’”.

The four boxing academies under the Billy Graham Youth Foundation are supported by the police, sponsors, the community and the youth themselves. That’s why there are 160 kids on the waiting list at the Naenae Boxing Academy alone.

More funding is needed to continue changing young lives.

“The reason we need the funding is everything else has been done – you’ve seen the wonderful coaches, managers, we have the systems, the facilities we have the support of the community what we need is the funding to go on to the future it’s as simple as that,” said David Graham.

Naenae Boxing academy manager Tash Thompson said anything is possible.

“Whether that is professional boxing, being the first one to graduate college from their whānau and gone on to further education, whatever their dream is I hope we have given them the skills to have the confidence to achieve that.”

It’s here where youth start to believe the impossible can become a reality.

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