RICHMOND, Va. -- Inside the East End Boxing Club, you'll find what you'd expect: a ring, gloves, punching bags, and more.
“They jump rope, shadow box, speed bag," said Owner, Elwood Patterson.
But Patterson, who goes by Coach Pat, said the space holds much more meaning than what meets the eye.
"It's their safe haven," Patterson said. "They want to come here."
Coach Pat works with youth of all ages to provide physical, mental and emotional structure and support through the sport of boxing.
“Boxing is therapeutic, and so a lot of the kids that come in here, they use that to release their aggression," he said.
He described it as a community-rooted proactive way of preventing gun violence. Coach Pat focuses on at-risk young people, many of who have recently been released from detention and don't know where to turn.
"They can use this as a healthy way to really find out how to navigate coming back into society and doing the right thing," Patterson explained. “We'd rather put gloves in their hands than put guns in their hands.”
Valerie Slater, executive director of the non-profit Rise For Youth, has been teaming up with Coach Pat for several years to further her mission of helping vulnerable young people.
“Once you take that gun out of that child's hand, it takes nonprofits and other concerned individuals to step up then and say, 'I have something better to put in your hand,'” she said.
Rise For Youth invests in supportive environments for children to keep them out of trouble and advocates for legislation that Slater says 'decriminalizes' them.
Slater said she launched a program that gives youth paid internships and mentorship and that East End Boxing is one of her partners.
“They are teaching life skills so that young folks are able to truly make change in their lives and their communities," Slater said. "Now you're able to take control of not just your emotions, but of your destiny. You're able to develop yourself a career path, and perhaps one of these organizations aligns with what you want to see in your future."
Slater said the pandemic further exposed dramatic inequities in certain communities which she believes has led to a spike in violence over the recent years. She said the non-profit community has played a major role in leveling the playing field and giving all children a fair chance to succeed.
"We have all got to come together and use every resource that we have to support our next generation," Slater said.
On Wednesday, Mayor Levar Stoney echoed that it takes a holistic approach to tackle gun violence, from city hall introducing legislative action to police officers working to reduce crime.
“We're going after specific targets in violent areas where violent crime is happening," said Major Ronnie Armstead with Richmond Police.
Mayor Stoney said illegal guns are inundating Richmond 24/7, especially in the East End and Southside. Armstead explained seizing them makes a big difference in saving lives.
"The impact is less people getting shot," he said. “We all run into younger aged people that are possessing these firearms.”
Armstead said through Operation Redball, which was launched at the beginning of the year, Richmond Police have confiscated 146 illegal guns off the streets.
In 2021, 780 were seized.
"We rely on tips from the public, and we're relying on a bunch of detectives doing a great job and doing a lot of tracking and tracing," Armstead said.
His biggest advice to the public is to take weapons out of vehicles. He said the police department has seen far too many firearms stolen from cars.
"If you're out shopping somewhere, if you're at the mall, if you're on the street, if you're at the clubs in Shockoe Bottom, and you've got to have it in your vehicle, at least lock it in your trunk," he said.
With involvement from city leaders, law enforcement, and non-profit leaders, Slater said the time to take action is now.
"The urgency is we are losing our children," she said.
If you'd like to learn more about Rise For Youth or get connected, visit their website.