(Pictured (from right to left) – Pan Am Place Manager Adam Jacobson with a program resident.)
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When you walk by 88 Arthur Street, you can’t help but notice the two giant boxing gloved-hands punching through the brick wall. You might assume this is just an extension of the Pan Am Boxing Club at 245 McDermot, run by Canadian Olympic Boxer Harry Black. You’d be half right.
While Pan Am Place may contain a training area in its basement, it is not simply another gym under the boxing club’s umbrella. It’s a tri-level facility for young at-risk Winnipeg men to reside, learn, grow, and of course, train.
With 27 beds (22 of which are currently occupied), a kitchen, bathrooms, a rec room with video games and a pool table, and much more, Pan Am Place is open to young men, around the ages of 18-30, who are in need. To stay, residents must complete mandated volunteer hours, including attending four workouts at Pan Am Boxing and three hours of chores.
“We try to give everybody a chance,” says Adam Jacobson, manager of Pan Am Place since 2014. “As long as you want to make some positive change, we’re willing to forget your past and focus on your future.”
Jacobson is the only full-time staff member, with part-time staff and volunteers helping supervise and train throughout the week. He spends most of his time overseeing new intakes, coordinating the living situation, and talking with the members of the program about their goals – personal, academic, and/or professional.
“We are showing them how to manage a home and develop the skills they need for independent living, (how to) get your grade 12, good food versus unhealthy food,” he says. “It’s up to us to provide a home they’ll be safe in, but also to give them some life lessons they probably missed growing up.”
When University of Winnipeg Faculty of Education student Joy Chyzzy began training at Pan Am Boxing, she had no idea the Pan Am Place program existed. She’s happy to have the opportunity to teach classes that the Pan Am Place residents take part in.
“When I volunteer teaching a class, I can sort of push them physically to keep up with their health, and over there (Pan Am Place) it’s more of a mental progression,” she says. “They’re trying to go back to school, they’re trying to get jobs. They’re a step ahead of where they were yesterday, and that’s the amazing part.”
While Jacobson studied Politics at the University of Manitoba, he’s quickly become a social worker and mentor (in addition to being a Welterweight boxing champ).
“What I get out of it on a good day, I’m able to help guys and guide them toward becoming productive members of society,” he says. “Social workers, you read about how they burn out because there’s a lot more failures than successes. Successes can take years, failures can take a day. We had a guy who was living here for a week and the next thing you know, he’s on the run and back in Stoney Mountain Penitentiary because he didn’t want to do a urine analysis, or someone relapses. It’s not uncommon in this field of work. At the end of the day you have to forget about it all and find some peace, but it’s hard because you’ve developed an emotional connection with them, and you want the best for them.”
Jacobson mentions that spending plenty of one-on-one time with the residents is his best formula for success. He tries not to second guess himself too much, and simply focus on things each day as they come.
“We’ve helped a lot of people here and we continue to do so,” he says. “Even if they might not realize they’re moving forward, they are. They’re safe, they’re not worrying about where their next meal is going to come from. They can start to worry about who they are and who they’re going to become, worry about their future. I see growth in my guys on a regular basis.”
“I know Harry wanted to give these men a second chance, a fighting chance,” Chyzzyk adds. “These guys who are fighters for so many reasons are off the streets and on a good path.”