BARBARA J. WILLIAMS received the Community Champion Award. From left: Kenneth L. Houston, Barbara J. Williams and Randy Castritota. (Photos by Gail Manker)
In 2008, Larry Chisholm, an ex-offender from the Hill District, opened Future Champs Boxing Gym in Wilkinsburg with the help of Randy Castriota, owner of Castriota Metals & Recycling.
The two men met after Chisholm was released from prison and Castriota gave him a job and a place to live. Shortly after, Castriota asked Chisholm, who once had a promising career in boxing, what his dream was.
SUSAN R. HUNTER received the Community Champion Award. From left: Kenneth L. Houston, Susan R. Hunter and Randy Castritota.
“Crime, it confines you. A lot of the time, you don’t get out of a four block radius when you’re involved in the crime,” said Chisholm.
“After I got out of prison, I said what I wanted to do is get involved with youth to get the gun out of their hand and the gloves in their hands.”
Designed as a means to curb violence, the organization used boxing to provide youth with a positive outlet. But after a few years in operation, Future Champs struggled with funding and couldn’t afford to pay trainers or mentors to work with the youth they served.
But now Future Champs is being reinvented. On June 19, the nonprofit’s administrators hosted the First Annual Launch Event and Fundraiser at LeMont Restaurant to share their new vision for the organization.
“We’re going to focus on boxing still, but also education and workforce development,” Castriota said. “Our mission has changed a little because we are more focused on education, but it’s all about guiding youth.”
Looking to take Future Champs in a new direction, Castriota and Chisholm brought on Kenneth Huston to serve as executive director and CEO. With experience in workforce development through his own organization Huston Trust Inc. and the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, Huston has seen the impact economic empowerment can have in violence prevention and intervention.
“If we’re going to have an impact on violence we have to provide a positive vehicle and economics is that positive vehicle,” Huston said.
The Future Champs Resource Center’s programs include violence prevention and intervention, workforce development and management, re-entry assistance, and youth pathways and career development. Huston believes you have to give those living in poverty an alternative to drug culture and violence.
“Drug dealers are not drug dealers because they want to be. They see that as an economic opportunity to get out of the ghetto,” Huston said. “I say to them, your business acumen can be turned to something positive to benefit the community.”
Participants will undergo 12 weeks of aggressive training through nine modules created by Huston. They will be taught in areas ranging from literacy to life skills to prepare them for a career.
“Future Champs is an economic empowerment organization that will challenge individuals to be career oriented,” Huston said. “We will challenge every individual that walks in the door at Future Champs that, ‘you can do better.’”
Future Champs is supported by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pittsburgh Piraes, PNC Charitable Trust, PNC Bank, Enterprise Inc., Community Education Partners, Branded Solutions, and Specialized Education Services Inc.
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