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 SOAR Students Deliver Punches From the Heart

The punches came fast and furious as the teens held their laser-like focus on the bag in front of them. One-two, one-two, one-two, the boys and girls threw as many punches as they could in a minute, expelling pent-up frustration, anger, and sadness.

The San Diego SOAR Academy students were taking part in the second annual Punches From the Heart event at the Kearny Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility. The fundraising and awareness campaign is organized by the ABC Youth Foundation, which provides after-school boxing programs for students in San Diego.

“It provides them with a sense of normalcy,” Principal Joanne Finney said of the event. “It also allows them to physically express their frustration, their fears. It’s a cathartic experience. They say, I can get it out of my life and get back on the road I’m supposed to be on. That’s the way we have to be with life. We’ve got to work it through.”

Foundation President Billy Moore was at the juvenile facility for Round 2 of the Punches From the Heart program, which he started last year. The SOAR team set a goal of 50,000 punches from its students, teachers, and staff members. They delivered 77,363 punches on four punching bags Friday -- 30,000 more than last year’s event.

Moore raised the stakes this year, too. His inaugural event was dubbed 40,000 Punches From the Heart. The goal is 1 million this year, and he so far has recruited the San Diego Police Department, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, King Chavez Schools, Evangeline Roberts Institute of Learning, and 9Round Fitness gyms to participate.

Moore’s visits to SOAR Academy don’t always involve boxing; sometimes it’s just to talk about life and life skills. He has no shortage of inspirational messages and words of wisdom for the teens, telling a group from Girls Rehabilitation Facility: “Remember, this is only the beginning of the rest of your life. You can take it and shape it just like you did with that bag.”

Before the event, teacher Greta Hulley asked the students to get personal by sharing what they would be punching out. A bulletin board in the detention facility’s Unit 200 was filled with paper cutouts in the shape of a boxing glove, on which powerful words were written: racism, drugs, my past, negativity, alcohol, abuse, my brother’s killer.

And that’s part of Moore’s mission: “We’re punching out racism, gang violence, disrespect for one another, disrespect for leadership. ABC is about teaching youth to step up in life with their best foot forward, without cowardice, but with courage and dignity.”