In a church basement in Chicago's La Villita/Little Village neighborhood a boxing club has been operating for five years for the physical and educational development of Latino youths seeking to escape street gangs and other problems on the streets.

Those running the Chicago Youth Boxing Club are volunteers like Silvia del Rago, who, though she has no children, feels equally attracted by the club's work and its influence on young people of the neighborhood.

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"I'm a member of the Church of La Villita, in whose basement the club operates. I saw that they wanted people to help them so I joined three years ago," Del Rago told Efe.

Like the other members of the board of directors, Del Rago likes the club's discipline and the changes it effects in the lives of young people "who previously loitered around the streets, wasting time and getting in trouble."

The club functions as a non-profit organization that offers training in boxing and martial arts for boys and girls 8 years old and up in La Villita, while also welcoming kids from other Latino neighborhoods like North Lawndale, Humboldt Park and the heavily Hispanic suburbs of Cicero and Berwyn.

Del Rago enthuiastically mentions the effort that young people make to get out of the rut they're in to discover excellence "in every aspect of their lives."

As many as 40 young people go to the club every day.

Victor Rodriguez, vice president of the board, told Efe that youths going to the club are less exposed "to the violence that unfortunately exists in the neighborhood."

"Here they train, play and do their schoolwork under strict supervision," he said.

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On Fridays the club has a special program for kids at risk of being recruited by street gangs, as well as for those who left gangs and are looking for a new start.

Two employees give advice on the best way to find jobs, prepare resumes or apply for scholarships or internships.

According to Del Rago, the atmosphere of the club is safe and respectful, so that "they all help each other and new members are taken in hand by the older ones."

The technical staff is made up of former professional Latino boxers who are well-known in the community like Gabriel Navarro, William Rodriguez, Salvador Castillo, Raul Gonzalez and Marcelino Perez.

Rodriguez, known as "Chupe" among boxing fans, told Efe that some of the boys trained by the club have gone on to fight in amateur and semi-pro tournaments.

"Two weeks ago a 19-year-old kid turned pro after being with us since he was 13. We've had champs in the Golden and Silver Gloves, and we helped get another boy to a national championship," he said proudly.

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Several club members have competed in the Junior Olympics, and a delegation has just taken part in a boxing program organized by the University of Notre Dame.

But the club's activities go beyond boxing, according to Del Rago, who gave as an example its participation in the "Agua para Mexico" (Water for Mexico) campaign, which constructed 35 cisterns to collect rainwater for houses in the Mexican town of Tamaula.

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