100 Women, Downtown Boxing Gym Unite To Help Detroit Students' Reading Skills

Detroit students are receiving literacy help thanks to a unique form of philanthropy: a donation of $1,000 each from 100 women.

The Downtown Boxing Gym — which was recently pitched as a charitable idea to Amazon.com, Inc. AMZN CEO Jeff Bezos by none other than Madonna — has been awarded a $100,000 grant by Impact100, an organization that pools $1,000 donations from 100 women to make a singular contribution.

The money pays for 61 six-week-long literacy intervention tutoring sessions provided by the group Beyond Basics.

Most students who come to Downtown Boxing Gym are one to three grade levels behind in reading skill, said Academic Coordinator Kristin Lusk.

“It can be frustrating to a child. It can weigh on your self-esteem and every other aspect of your life.”

Why It's Needed

National Assessment Of Educational Progress test results showed that just 7 percent of eighth grade Detroit students were proficient in reading when tested in 2015.

More than 70 percent of students enrolled at Downtown Boxing Gym are students in the Detroit public schools, Lusk said. At the nonprofit’s home in a former book-binding factory on the city’s east side, even the hallways are used as classroom space. Despite its name, the No. 1 priority at Downtown Boxing Gym is education; the organization’s slogan is “Books Before Boxing.”

Students receive tutoring and mentoring, participate in physical fitness activities and are required to perform community service.

Downtown Boxing Gym students have a 100 percent high school graduation rate in the 10 years since the program began, according to the nonprofit.

“If money was no object, I’d like to expand to the whole city,” Founder and CEO Khali Sweeney told Benzinga.

The Downtown Boxing Gym has 140 enrolled students and a waitlist of more than 750.

Impact100 Metro Detroit members Amy Bouque, left, and Linda Kleist at the Downtown Boxing Gym. The group awarded $100,000 to the youth nonprofit this year. "It's a galvanizing opportunity to really make a difference," Bouque says. Photo by Dustin Blitchok.

Women Uniting To Give Back

Impact100’s metro Detroit chapter awarded $100,000 to the Downtown Boxing Gym after a selection process that began with 75 nonprofit organizations in the area.

The final step was a May 11 presentation by the three front-runner organizations in front of the 100 women.

The 8-minute presentations had “no slides, no tear-jerking videos [and] no PowerPoints,” said Amy Bouque, a founding member of the Impact100 metro Detroit chapter and a human resources executive at Ally Financial Inc ALLY.

“Just stand there and tell us: ‘Why you?'"

The metro Detroit chapter of Impact100 is in its second year. The group’s goal is to reach 200 members and give out two $100,000 grants next year, Bouque said.

Impact100 members are contributing their own money, and the group is accordingly focused on being a good steward of the funds, Bouque said.

Grants are paid in installments as benchmarks are hit, and the recipients of the money are monitored to ensure it’s being used appropriately.

“We’re pretty risk-averse. Each woman is giving $1,000.”

Fellow member Linda Kleist, the cofounder of Identity Creative, said Impact100's collective giving model allowed her to be a part of a larger philanthropic effort — and to learn about the charitable work underway in the Detroit area.

“I don’t know anything about how to help a nonprofit in this way on my own. Any woman can join [Impact100], be a part of it and learn more.”

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Story image: Cameron Oatis, 9, works with a reading tutor at the Downtown Boxing Gym. Photo by Dustin Blitchok.

Posted In: Beyond BasicsDetroitDowntown Boxing GymImpact100Kahli SweeneyKristin LuskMadonnaEducationMovers & ShakersExclusivesInterviewGeneral

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