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Dallas Doing Good: From the Ring to the Lab

(By Grayson Mask for - April 26, 2024)

A nonprofit boxing gym in East Dallas is merging a love for the sport with STEM workshops for middle and high school students, aimed at exposing Dallas youth to STEM careers and addressing the representation gap in the STEM workforce.

Amanda Alvarez is the founder of LaBori Boxing. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Amanda grew up in a culture deeply enriched by boxing. With figures like Tito Trinidad and Miguel Cotto celebrated as heroes, boxing was a pivotal part of her life, shaping family gatherings and inspiring passion from a young age. Amanda’s own boxing journey began at 17, initially sparked by a Father’s Day gift of a punching bag intended for her dad, which she ended up using extensively. Her formal training commenced after she moved to New York for college, finding a trainer and dedicating herself to the sport.

Parallel to her growing interest in boxing, Amanda’s academic pursuits were equally fervent. She had a longstanding attraction to science and math, actively participating in math teams and science clubs. Her academic journey took her to NYU’s bio program, eventually steering her toward neuroscience, a field that captivated her curiosity and passion for research. This pursuit of science led her to complete a significant neuroscience project before moving to Dallas for graduate school, illustrating her dedication to both her athletic and academic interests.

After moving to Dallas, Amanda’s journey to founding her nonprofit was gradual, with her primary focus on her PhD in neuroscience at UT Dallas. However, she continued her training in boxing and other martial arts. The unique idea of merging a boxing gym with a science lab materialized during her PhD years, particularly through her interactions with a coach who would later become a crucial part of her nonprofit organization, LaBori Boxing.

The pandemic offered the necessary pause for reflection and planning, enabling Alvarez to plan her vision and take the steps needed to bring it to fruition. During this time, Amanda was able to reconnect with the community uniquely, beginning with offering free salsa classes in downtown Dallas. The success of these classes highlighted her desire to make a more significant impact. This led to the concept of a nonprofit boxing gym that included STEM workshops, aimed at exposing Dallas youth to STEM careers and addressing the representation gap in the STEM workforce.

“Our location in East Dallas, at the corner of E Grand and Samuell Boulevard, serves a predominantly Hispanic community, most of whom are of Mexican descent. Considering boxing’s significant cultural relevance within the Mexican community, which has produced some of the greatest boxers in history, I believed that boxing would be an effective medium to engage with the local youth we aimed to serve,” Amanda says. “This intuition has been validated, as these kids have shown a great affinity for boxing. Our approach was to leverage boxing as a means to connect with these young individuals, creating a platform to introduce and discuss STEM opportunities. Through boxing, we can foster a relationship that allows for meaningful conversations about STEM, aligning with our mission to engage and educate the community we serve.”

Amanda’s nonprofit organization experienced rapid growth shortly after its soft launch in November 2022, surpassing expectations. Despite initial challenges in securing a space, a supportive landlord and a viable second option allowed for swift progression.

The organization’s early success was significantly bolstered by its established connection with the Hispanic community, a relationship that had been nurtured through offering free salsa classes. This initiative proved crucial in attracting around 20 kids to their first soft opening, leveraging these pre-existing community ties.

“I am a neuroscientist by training and have a huge passion for science, but when I started my academic training I noticed that there is a big gap in knowledge and opportunities in the STEM fields for minorities,” Amanda explains. “I want to expose our students to the beautiful world of STEM early on so they can be better equipped when it comes to making academic and professional decisions in the future.”

Partnerships with local nonprofits, like Jubilee Park and Community Center and the Buckner Nest Step program, were instrumental in the nonprofit’s rapid growth and the positive reception it received from the community.

Amanda elaborates on the structure and accessibility of the programs offered by her nonprofit organization. Designed to cater to various age groups, the sessions are organized to accommodate the schedules and developmental needs of the participants. A full schedule can be found on the website.

Highlighting the program’s inclusivity, it is offered free of charge, requiring only contact information from participants without any financial commitment. This approach not only removes financial barriers to participation but also aligns with the organization’s mission to foster a supportive environment where children and youths can engage in physical activity, learn new skills, and become part of a community.

“There is no better stress reliever than hitting a bag, and there is no better confidence builder than feeling yourself getting stronger and better after each training session… and if we can teach our students to regulate stress and to build confidence, they’ll be unstoppable,” Amanda says.

LaBori Boxing funds its programs through a combination of donations, grants, and revenue from adult fitness classes. The adult fitness classes offered by the organization serve a dual purpose: they provide affordable fitness options to the community and generate funds to support the youth programs. With experienced instructors leading these classes and the most expensive option priced at just $10, the organization aims to make fitness accessible while supporting its mission. Special discounts for the parents of participating youths further lower barriers to access, reinforcing the organization’s commitment to community wellness and creating a sustainable funding model that benefits both children and adults involved.

Post-opening, the team grew to include two more coaches with backgrounds in boxing and mixed martial arts, though the focus remains on boxing. This expansion created a tight-knit coaching team founded on longstanding relationships. For instance, lead coach Manny Corral, whom Amanda met during her first week in Dallas, has been a significant connection. Similarly, lead coach Jonathan Hernandez has been influential in her boxing journey for about seven years. Their varied coaching styles, combining practical and technical skills, are crucial to the program’s effectiveness, providing comprehensive training for participants.

Amanda’s organization is actively working to broaden the scope of its STEM workshops by incorporating a wider array of professional fields and specialties.

“Every STEM workshop we’ve offered is a volunteer or organization volunteering to come provide the workshop. We’ve been really lucky with our volunteers so far. We have had a lot of volunteers already on the health, medical fields. I think I would love to complement that with more tech workshops, engineering, architecture. That is hopefully what we’re going to be working on for the next couple workshops,” Amanda says.

Looking to the future, Alvarez outlines ambitious goals for the organization, driven by its rapid growth and the generous support of donors. Addressing the challenge of physical space limitations due to the increasing number of participants is a priority, which might lead to opening a second location or expanding the current facilities. Beyond the boxing ring, the organization aims to enrich its STEM offerings by introducing scholarships, internships, and potentially STEM camps, providing participants with tangible opportunities to explore and pursue careers in STEM fields. Collaborations with higher education institutions or corporations in Dallas are envisioned as a means to forge pathways for the youths’ futures, ensuring they have the resources and support to explore a broad spectrum of career possibilities.

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