Crain’s Detroit – Dresner Foundation Gives Downtown Boxing Gym a Lift

by Natalie Broda Photo, Jenny Risher
by Natalie Broda
Photo, Jenny Risher


For the last nine years, Carlo Sweeney has spent three hours every weekday picking up and dropping off 40 kids who attend his after-school boxing program in Detroit.

That’s all about to change with a local foundation’s support.

The Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program, founded by Sweeney in 2005, is a nonprofit organization focused on youth development. Children aged 7-18 attend the after-school program not only to learn boxing techniques, but to receive academic support and mentorship. Each day, the kids spend time with a tutor before being allowed to hit the gym.

Sweeney, who is known around the gym as Coach Khali, self-funded the gym at 4760 St. Aubin St. for four years, according to Executive Director Jessica Hauser. There are 65 kids enrolled in the program, many of them without reliable and safe transportation to and from the program. To keep his kids in the gym, Sweeney began shouldering the transportation and cost himself.

“There were a lot of kids who we weren’t able to pick up,” Hauser said. “And so when they couldn’t come to the gym, they made poor decisions. I remember Coach Khali was called to the hospital once for one of the kids — and that he said he had given up because he couldn’t come [to the program] anymore.”

West Bloomfield-based Dresner Foundation CEO Kevin Furlong heard about the Downtown Boxing Gym’s after-school program and visited the gym.

“A big part of our mission is youth programs, and this was very appealing to us with the education component and the program’s focus on good grades and graduating,” Furlong said.

The Dresner Foundation was created with assets from the estate of the late real estate developer Joseph Dresner.

The foundation’s $34,000 grant will be used to hire three drivers for one year. They will drive three vans, which are being loaned to the gym by General Motors Co.

Over the past nine years, the program has served 252 kids. Every child who has attended the after-school program has graduated high school, with 95 percent of those students going on to college.

“We’re successful because [Coach Khali] knows every kid and every story. We’re more than sports and studying, we’re like an aunt and uncle in the family,” Hauser said.

The gym has more than 400 kids on its waiting list, which is why Sweeney and his staff are in the process to moving to a larger location at 6445 E. Vernor Highway. Pop icon Madonna announced in June that she would donate an undisclosed amount of funds toward the purchase of the new gym. The gym is searching for volunteers and donations as it gets ready to make the move.

General Electric donated all the lights; we just need them installed. Sherwin Williams donated all the paint; we just need someone to paint,” Hauser said.

According to Hauser, the only time that Sweeney has not picked up the kids was when he sold his car to keep the lights on at the gym.

“If we can’t get them here, we can’t change their lives, and it truly does help to change the lives of kids,” Hauser said.

To volunteer or for more information, visit

Click HERE to read the article at Crains Detroit.