As she surveyed a room full of donated building supplies, Devonne “Da Bomb” Canady said she has nearly everything she needs to open her new Dixwell boxing gym, except a ring. Then, as if on cue, Officer James Baker and his wife walked in.
After hearing how close she is to converting a long-abandoned gas station into a center for youth boxing, the Bakers spontaneously pledged $1,200 toward the purchase of a boxing ring. Officer Baker, a beat cop assigned to Dixwell, said he’d also try to secure other donations for Canady, who has a line on a $6,200 used ring in Kansas.
The Bakers’ spur-of-the-moment donation was the latest in what has been an outpouring of support for Canady’s effort to revitalize a long-dormant Dixwell street corner.
More than a year ago, Canady, a Hillhouse grad and former national boxing champ, began the process of winning zoning approval for The Elephant In The Room boxing gym. Her vision is to create a non-profit after-school boxing program for area youth. She said she’s hoping to open by mid-November.
Having secured all the requisite city permissions, Canady has recently begun pulling in donations of supplies and services to help transform the shell of a building into a functioning gym. She got a big boost several months ago with the donation of $12,000 in supplies from Lowe’s, through the hardware chain’s “Heroes” program, which donates supplies and labor to community not-for-profits.
On Thursday, Canady offered a tour of the lime-green brick building at the corner of Henry and Orchard streets, which sits just a block away from James Hillhouse High School. Inside, a squad of red-shirted volunteers from local Lowe’s stores were finishing up the pizza lunch that Canady had ordered, before getting back to hanging drywall.
Lowe’s supplies and labor are responsible for demolition, new walls, sheetrock, and plumbing in the building, said Canady. Another company donated sheetrock. Anderson windows dropped off eight large windows earlier that day, Canady said. Home Depot donated $400 in clean-up materials. Local architect David Dickson has donated time to draw up some plans for the exterior of the building and the property’s parking plan. Cherry Hill has donated the use of several Dumpsters. Builders, painters, and electricians have all donated their time. The city pitched in with a construction grant from the Livable City Initiative, to improve the exterior of the building. Darren Smith of the the Newhallville Housing and Development Corporation hired someone to help with the sheetrock process.
Canady said she’s had to do very little convincing to get people to share their wealth with her gym. “I call them. I bring our tax ID number. I just mention youth.”
As workers busied themselves, Canady pointed out where a small office and two small locker rooms have been framed out. A water fountain—donated by Bender plumbing—sat on the floor, waiting to be installed. Lowe’s workers unwrapped two showers. Canady explained the custom red, white, and black paint job—donated, of course—that’s underway.
“This is going to be the premier boxing gym,” Canady said.
But a key component is still lacking, she said. “We still need the meat and potatoes of the gym.” The ring.
She said she’s spoken with Ringside, a nationwide distributor that has a used ring in Kansas for sale for $6,200, including the cost of shipping. It’s ready to go, Canady said, but she’s out of funds.
“I’ve put thousands of my own money into the gym,” said Canady, who works full-time as a respiratory therapist at Yale-New Haven Hospital. “I’ve already exhausted my own money.”
Canady said she’s anxious to get the gym up and running as soon as possible. “I’m trying to get this completed before Old Man Winter catches us.”
“I’m feeling pretty good. I’m determined,” Canady said. “I’m remaining positive. A little prayer doesn’t hurt.”
In addition to business support, Canady said she’s been surprised by the spontaneous generosity of everyday people in the neighborhood. A little while ago, a passerby and said he had an hour to kill. “What can I do?” he asked Canady. She put him to work hanging insulation and he’s since become a regular volunteer, she said.
“People just walk up and offer help,” Canady said.
As if on cue, a police cruiser pulled up outside and Officer Baker and his wife Michelle, who pulled up in a separate car, walked in. It only took a few minutes of conversation before Michelle made an offer: “We’ll commit to $1,200.”
“This is what I was telling you about!” Canady exclaimed. There’s something about the gym that just inspires generosity, she marveled.
“This is awesome,” said Michelle. She said she’s excited about the possibility of the gym to “get kids off the street.”
James Baker promised he’d make donations to the gym an item on Thursday night’s meeting of the New Haven Guardians, an African-American cops association of which he is the president. “So she can have [the ring] by November first,” Baker said.
James said he and his wife had not planned to make a donation, they were simply moved to support a good cause. “Isn’t that what people are supposed to do?”
“I think it’s a great thing,” he said of the gym. While there are active boxing gyms in Fair Haven and the Hill, they’re hard for Dixwell kids to reach. “When it comes to territory, a lot of kids can’t make it down there.”
“Kids get in trouble when they have a lot of free time,” said Michelle. Boxing gyms give kids something to occupy them, she said.
Canady thanked the Bakers for their generosity.
“We’re almost there,” she said as the Bakers departed.