It's all about choice.
The Hesperia Police Activities League's motto is "the power of choice." Volunteers along with Coach Robert Espinoza are putting that power into the hands of local youth through the sport of boxing by teaching them how to spar, hit punching bags, jump rope and do cardio
HPAL coordinator Deputy Gerania Navarro with the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Hesperia station said the nonprofit program is aimed at keeping at-risk youths busy and taking them off the streets.
Currently, about 70 boys and girls ages 12 to 17 participate in the free program, according to Navarro.
The program gives youths skills they can use outside the gym.
"When they're out on the streets and nobody's watching the only thing they have is choice," Navarro said. "If they make the right choice, that empowers them and they can be proud of themselves."
"Choose who you want to be," said Rea DeSantis, 17, of the HPAL motto and the ability to choose how best to spend free time.
DeSantis said the ability to defend herself has boosted her confidence, and accomplishing the difficult training has her feeling relieved like now she has nothing to prove.
Volunteer Sandy Kocherhans said kids learn respect and responsibility; it builds their self-esteem and the confidence to interact with others.
In 2009, Sgt. Linzy Savage asked Espinoza to help him get the program started.
"He created a bridge between law enforcement and community," Espinoza said. "I'll never forget Sgt. Savage — the first person to open the place."
"It was the right thing to do for the city at the time — the kids in the city needed it," said volunteer Larry Kocherhans of why Savage started the program.
The officers who volunteer at the gym are examples the kids can follow, Espinoza said.
"They see officers taking off the uniform and ready to sacrifice, sweat and push them to their limits," Espinoza said. "The kids like that."
Daniel Bravo, 16, said Espinoza taught him, "how not to give up and he keeps me going."
Espinoza also volunteers at two more gyms: Victorville Police & Fire Activities League and United Team Boxing Club in Apple Valley.
"I'm a normal person and to have the opportunity to help at this level is a blessing for me," Espinoza said. "I see it as my responsibility."
"If we can reach one kid and teach them to have goals and not get involved with drugs and gangs — it's very important" Navarro said.
For more information about volunteering, sponsorship and upcoming events, call Deputy Navarro at 760-947-1500, ext. 4527. The gym is located at 17508 Hercules St., Suite #B5. Hours of operation are 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday and 7 to 9 a.m. Saturday.