There's an exciting initiative brewing in Te Awamutu and it promises to dramatically improve the lives of young people.
The Te Awamutu Boxing Academy has been in the pipeline for the last two years and big names are throwing their support behind it.
An interest night at Waipā District Council chambers last week was the latest milestone in plans to open the academy in July.
The academy will be in central Te Awamutu, with the building yet to be confirmed.
It will run after-school boxing classes four nights a week for young people aged 9-18, with boys and girls taking part on separate nights.
The academy is modelled on a successful programme by the Billy Graham Youth Foundation, which was set up by former Australasian boxing champion Billy Graham.
Billy established the Naenae Boxing Academy in Wellington in 2006 to provide mentorship and build positive relationships with youth and their whānau — through the medium of boxing.
It has been a huge success and this year has a waiting list of more than 200 young people.
The foundation works with gyms across the country to run Billy's boxing programme.
The Te Awamutu Boxing Academy will be the sixth gym to host the programme.
It will be run by Billy Graham's brother, Chris Graham, and his niece Erinna Lane.
Chris is a teacher at Te Awamutu Intermediate and has more than 40 years' experience working with young people.
He will be the head coach and one of several trustees, and plans to continue teaching at the intermediate for now.
Chris says the move to coach boxing is a return to his roots.
"When I was a child, the positive influence of boxing and mentorship changed the course of my life and my brother Billy's," he says.
"Growing up, our boxing coach directed us away from what could have been a terrible life."
Chris says the sport of boxing can be used as a vehicle to transform the lives of youth and their families.
"Although it's a boxing gym, it's not all about boxing," he says.
"We're focusing on all areas of health — physical, mental and spiritual.
"It's all about the kids for us. It's a matter of putting good people in front of kids and fostering camaraderie and work ethic."
Erinna Lane — Chris Graham's daughter — is the manager of the academy and a trustee.
She says the boxing academy will fill a need in Te Awamutu.
"There are so many kids in Te Awamutu that can't see their own value and potential," she says.
"We believe the boxing academy will change that."
She says the programme brings children from different backgrounds together.
"You've got the son of a CEO and a son of a gang member coming together as equals. It's an amazing thing."
Outside of the academy, Erinna is a director for Big Kid Films and the driving force behind Stop the Bus.
Erinna says both projects share the same vision of helping the community and uplifting tamariki.
The academy will be managed and funded by a newly-established trust, the Te Awamutu Youth Development Trust, which is seeking support from the community.
Well-known Te Awamutu people are on the board of trustees — Brian Trebilco (chairman), Campbell Stewart, Louise Livingstone, Andrew Cook and Quentin Wallace.
Quentin Wallace — a long-time Te Awamutu tennis coach — will join Chris Graham as one of the boxing coaches.
Plans for the Te Awamutu academy are supported by the New Zealand Police and Waipā District Council.
Police commissioner Mike Bush praised Billy Graham's boxing programmes.
"The work done by you [Billy Graham] and your team attests to the fact that we can make a difference in young people's lives by providing youth with positive role models, opportunities to succeed, strengthened interpersonal relationships, social skills, self-control and care."
Te Awamutu senior constable Scott Miller says local police are fully behind the academy.
"I can see the academy being very popular and successful in Te Awamutu and hope the community sees how lucky we are to have this starting up in our town," he says.
Scott says the academy's goals go hand-in-hand with the police mission of "safer communities together".
"Proactive initiatives targeting our young people by giving them a sense of purpose, pride and teamwork in an environment free from alcohol, violence and drugs proves to them what they can achieve."
Waipā mayor Jim Mylchreest also supported the academy.
"I think it's a fantastic programme and we totally support it, especially the important values of respect, commitment and non-violence."
"Anything that provides good role models and mentoring to our young people is an asset to the town."