It's a typical day like any other.
People are going about their everyday business and as Paul Hampton, a teacher at Victory Primary School, winds down from another day of sculpting young minds, he notices something. He sees two young boys jogging.
Now, under normal circumstances, this wouldn't rate a second thought for most observers. Boys running, boys simply being boys.
Yet most observers wouldn't know the deeper significance, might not appreciate the realities of life in the neighbourhood.
For Hampton, though, it meant something. It was a validation of the work that he and three-times world champion softballer Marty Grant have put in over the past 20 months as programme directors and trainers at the Victory YMCA Boxing Gym, situated in Toi Toi St, opposite Victory Square.
Grant is the YMCA manager and responsible for the delivery of Out of School Care and Recreation (Oscar) programmes. Together, they formulated a plan to get kids off the streets and into some form of meaningful recreation in a safe and nurturing social environment.
And together they formed a boxing club. Though boxing might have been the initial hook, it is now transforming into a social programme involving a variety of activities for about 65 boys and girls aged between seven and 14, the majority of whom are from the Victory or Nelson South areas. Central to the programme are the four core values of responsibility, respect, honesty and caring.
Many of the children have experienced disrupted, troubled upbringings, often scarred by the absence of a reliable male role model. Easy, then, for impressionable youngsters to be led astray and succumb to often-misguided peer pressure.
So for Hampton, to see two boys jogging, and both involved in their programme, really struck a chord.
"Just little things like that, which for someone like myself or for people I know think is normal, but for these kids . . . they'd [instead] be in front of a Playstation or that kind of rubbish and here they were going for a run," says Hampton.
"That's the real success of the programme. It's not about becoming a good boxer."
Boxing has certainly been a key element of the programme, and from the outset, Hampton and Grant enlisted the help of former national boxing champions Dean Rackley and Barry Galbraith and City Fitness trainer Brendan Temple, himself a former South Island Golden Gloves title holder, as trainers. Temple has since moved on.
Although from a cricketing background and a former Marist senior rugby player, Hampton also had 10 years of boxing training, without ever stepping into the ring. Grant's experiences as a high-performance athlete, most notably as a world champion Black Sox pitcher, and as a coach and administrator over the years help provide an accomplished blend of support and direction.
Grant says that when he was initially invited to Victory School by Hampton to help provide some guidance for the school's sports programme, the preference for many of the pupils was to try boxing. After initially implementing an athletics programme, they introduced boxing about five months later, and they've never looked back. With it came an enhanced, and in many cases unfamiliar, sense of responsibility for the kids.
"They then realised that this means, ‘I've got to be disciplined, I've got to turn up regularly'," says Grant.
"Boxing has been proven all around the world how it can work in these sorts of environments. And we've just taken that on, with some good people in the background . . . and the support of the school and the YMCA and with quality trainers like Barry and Dean, who have a huge knowledge of boxing.
"[But] it's really not about the boxing, it's about giving those kids some support and being there consistently, because we're there every Monday and Wednesday and those kids can show up and know that there's going to be someone there looking after them. That's why they come."
Both Grant and Hampton insist they don't push boys into the ring, although four of them; Baz Walsh, Tawheri Funnell, Tysxun Aiolupotea and Jared Johnstone, have all competed.
At just 11 years old, Tawheri Funnell has been the male role model for his three siblings for most of his life and, says Grant, has been one of the programme's real success stories. He's lost both of his competitive fights, although Grant says he's been their best trainer.
"He's had two losses, but he's showed that he's got so much heart," says Grant. "We were worried about him in terms of his skill and his capacity to last a fight, but he's just shown that, as the man about his house, he's grown up beyond his years in the way he performs.
"Whatever he does, he puts a lot in to. He works hard and those sort of success stories, even though he hasn't won a bout yet, show his courage and bravery, that's why you do it. When we travel, he's the mature guy and he takes on the leadership role because he's done it before . . . he's done it all his life."
Others, like 9-year-old Lennox Shubart, epitomise the attitudinal transformation and increased confidence engendered by their involvement in the programme. He's now a member of the Nelson Rugby Football Club's under-9 team, coached by Grant.
"When he first started with us, he could hardly run properly and now he plays rugby. He tells me he's one of the best hookers in the game, that's [how much] his confidence [has grown].
"I use him to demonstrate his skipping ability because he had physical problems with his legs. Now he can do anything.
"I struggle to keep him off the field and he gets angry when I don't play him all the time and he threatened to transfer to Marist," laughs Grant.
Lennox's mother, Brydie Norriss, says that while both her sons have been involved in the programme, Lennox has benefited the most and "has a much better attitude towards himself, others and life in general".
"Lennox used to be a very angry child who found it hard to connect or have strong relationships with many people," she says. "He also had very low self-esteem and confidence. He now has many friends and confidence to burn.
"My eldest son, Christian, also attended the sessions as a helper. The relationship between the brothers has improved as it used to be very strained.
"They both have more more discipline and are finding better ways to express their frustration."
Grant says he's been both amazed and delighted by the programme's success.
"The children have made it what it is because of their enthusiasm. They turn up where initially they didn't, and it was probably because they weren't used to those sort of commitments. So a lot of them have just continually come along and they're challenged each day.
"They just enjoy each other's company and it's a social thing as much as it is a physical thing. Going from initially 15 kids to 65 each week now, it's been phenomenal really and the kids have made it because they've wanted to be there. And we've had such a demand from other people outside the area that it's sort of grown to be a bit of monster, really."
Grant stresses that it hasn't appealed to everyone, but for those who've stayed, they've certainly reaped some satisfying rewards.
"Of the 65 we've got now, we've probably had about 30 to 35 other kids who've come and gone over the last 20 months for various reasons.
"It's been a real benefit for a lot of the boys. There's been some marked changes in some of the ones who in the beginning, you would have thought 20 months ago who never have been around, but they've turned it round. And you don't know that until you've challenged them and you see what becomes of it."
Hampton says that other things like sponsorship from sports clothing manufacturer Under Armour has also heightened their sense of self worth.
"Besides looking the part, the main thing about that is that for a change, they've got somebody who feels they're actually worth putting some time into."
Hampton visited New York's notoriously tough Flatbush suburb in Brooklyn earlier this year as a guest of the New York Police Department, and he was impressed by the programmes being run there for troubled youth. He's tried to adapt elements of those programmes into the Victory set up.
"They have fantastic results and it's a formula that works for a certain type of person I guess."
Hampton says that the programmes now included "kids from all walks of life . . . kids from tough backgrounds and kids from loving families [as well]."
"There's obviously a huge need and it's been fantastic and the big thing for us from a school point of view, it's that a lot of the kids who've had issues in the past have had something positive to get their teeth into and have been able to commit to something.
"It's been great and it's helped me [build] relationships with those kids."
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