Pan Am Place: Empowering Lives Through Boxing

Pan Am Place is a transitional housing facility that uses physical exercise to better the lives of the residents.

If you’ve walked by 245 McDermot Ave, you may have seen Pan Am Boxing before, or at least seen the telltale gloves emerging from the building.  Pan Am Boxing, the oldest boxing gym in Winnipeg, opened just after the Pan Am Games ended in 1968.  

From its inception, Pan Am Boxing was a place for disenfranchised people, particularly young men. Inspired by a need to further serve the community, Pan Am Place was founded by Harry Black and his partners in 2013 to expand the work being done at Pan Am Boxing.  A non-profit organization and registered charity, Pan Am Place serves as a transitional housing facility for at-risk men between 18-29 years old.

Pan Am Boxing has always attracted young men, often from less privileged backgrounds, who sought mentorship from the coaches. When the gym closed and classes were over, the students would return to their homes, sometimes to influences that were detrimental to their growth.  “There was a need to provide a program and facility that could help these individuals full-time, not just within the gym’s hours of operation. That’s what started Pan Am Place,” explains Jason Aniceto, co-manager of Pan Am Place alongside Chris Sarifa.

Founder Harry Black, a former boxer, has taken the routine and structure he utilized in preparing for fights and developed it into a program for the residents at Pan Am Place. He believes preparing for the battles that life can bring is not so different from preparing for a boxing match.

Pan Am Place operates on a merit-based model, which asks men to apply for a space in the facility. Once accepted, residents can stay as long as they need if they participate in a structured schedule. The schedule includes 3-4 workouts a week at the boxing gym to support mental and physical health, volunteer work around the house, and moments of community service, like gardening or cleaning up around the Exchange District.  PanAm Place also works with corporate partners who offer residents a chance to work or volunteer at their businesses.

Through this unique structure, residents develop the tools to help improve their self-esteem, strengthen their social skills, and reduce stress and aggression. “It’s what sets us apart from other recovery places, the physical aspect and the mentality gleaned from that,” notes Jason.  Another differentiator he named is the sense of brotherhood cultivated by the residents and the staff. They work out together, cook together, and clean together, offering residents a sense of community at what may be a very low point in their lives.

More than transitional housing, PanAm Place creates a home for people coming from foster care, treatment programs, incarceration, homeless shelters, and recovery programs. It’s a place for them to get their lives together, giving them space to determine the next right step for them and their healing.

It has come a long way since it opened in 2013, and according to Jason, they aren’t done yet.  They’re working towards expanding into the space on top of the boxing gym next door, eventually filling the whole floor with additional rooms. Once that is complete, they’d like to install a skywalk between both facilities.

Many residents who leave the facility find ways to give back, creating ripple effects throughout the community due to Pan Am Place’s impact.  Residents have gone on to do social work, addiction counselling, support homeless shelters, and become part of the Pan Am staff. 

Through the transformational power of boxing, Pan Am Place offers a place for young men to make lasting, positive changes in their lives.

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