Boost! Helps Students Lose Weight, Gain Self Respect

Boost! initiative brings nonprofits to New Haven schools
Saturday, May 28, 2011
Courtesy of New Haven Register
By Steve Higgins
Special to the Register

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of articles outlining United Way of Greater New Haven’s commitment to helping children and youth achieve their potential through education. To get involved, visit

The New Haven boy was already in trouble with the law, failing in school and struggling with obesity by the time he was 14 years old. After he joined a gym in Fair Haven, the young man lost weight, gained self-respect and turned himself around academically.

Those are the kind of life-altering results that Devonne Canady hopes to achieve with her new gym, the Elephant in the Room (EIR) Boxing Club Inc.

EIR Boxing Club was among the first group of area nonprofits to respond to a Request For Information (RFI) from Boost!, a partnership among United Way of Greater New Haven, the city of New Haven and the New Haven Public Schools to meet the needs of area schoolchildren.

Boost! is working with five schools to forge partnerships with community organizations that offer services that help students thrive in the classroom: Barnard Environmental Studies Magnet School, Clinton Avenue School, Augusta Lewis Troup School, Wexler-Grant Community School and Metropolitan Business Academy.

EIR Boxing is one of 48 organizations that responded to the Boost! RFI, designed to find out what services may be available for students through local nonprofits.

“United Way designed the RFI process to help connect the rich diversity of programs and services in the community with the schools,” said Jennifer Heath, executive vice president at United Way of Greater New Haven.

Canady, who started EIR last year, wants to bring her Boxer-Size Fitness After-School Program to the schools. It’s a 90-minute exercise session based on the training regimen for boxers.
“We are in the midst of an obesity epidemic,” said Canady, a former women’s world champion boxer who grew up in New Haven. “We need to get these kids active, and I thought, what better way to do it than to introduce this boxing program. Boxing is unmatched when it comes to exercise.”
Students who attend the afterschool program will use jump ropes, heavy bags, speed bags and other training methods that do not involve person-to-person contact. Students will have to attend school and maintain their grades to be allowed into the program.

The name Elephant in the Room refers to the fact that New Haven’s youth are facing teen pregnancy, violence, crime and obesity, and these problems are not being discussed openly.

Another nonprofit that responded to the RFI, Clifford W. Beers Guidance Clinic Inc., a mental health facility, already has a long history of involvement with school-based health clinics and has several ideas for expanding that involvement.

The clinic has two pilot programs already in the works and would like to extend them to other schools, said Executive Director Alice Forrester, who is also a member of the Boost! Partnership Management Team.

The clinic operates an after-school outpatient program that provides group therapy to students who have mental health needs, and hopes to extend its Victims of Crime Program into the schools as well. This program supports families or children who have experienced sexual abuse or other crimes.

“For students to succeed in school, they must be healthy, safe and emotionally secure,” said New Haven Public Schools Director of External Affairs Laoise King. “Boost! is helping to bring together a wealth of community resources to support our students’ physical and mental health as well as provide academic enrichment opportunities."

Boost! is seeking funds to support the organizations that responded to RFI to be able to offer these programs in more schools. To contribute, go to

Steve Higgins is a Wallingford-based freelance writer.