Volunteer Spotlight: Shobi Mathew

An emergency medicine clinical research coordinator at Wayne State University’s School of Medicine, Shobi brings a wealth of knowledge to our program and our students.

At age 23, it’s been awhile since Shobi Mathew has had to do long division. So, when a student at the Downtown Boxing Gym recently approached him for help with a long division math assignment, he quickly brushed up on his skills.

“You want to be able to answer all of their questions,” Shobi says. “And you need to be on your best game.”

The Wayne State University grad with a bachelor’s degree in economics is one of the boxing gym’s volunteer tutors. Two to three times each week, he works one-on-one with students at the free after school academic and athletic program that serves 150 children ages 8-18. The program is housed in a former bookbinding factory on Detroit’s east side – with gym space on one side and an academic wing, classrooms, a library, kitchen, computer lab and music studio on the other. With the rhythmic sounds of boxing and conditioning drills in the background, Shobi sits with students and helps them focus on their school assignments. He’s been a dedicated volunteer since November 2017.

“On a typical day, I check in, greet the coaches, and then visit the classrooms. I find whoever needs help,” Shobi explains. “It could be someone who’s 8 years old who needs help with adding and subtracting or it could be someone who’s 16 and needs help applying for college or wants advice on life. I love being at the gym and assisting in any way possible.”

Shobi is still a student himself. He’s in the midst of completing a master’s program in basic medical science at Wayne State. After that, he plans to pursue his dream of becoming a doctor and attending Wayne State’s School of Medicine. But, on the days when he visits the boxing gym, his own academic pursuits take a backseat to whatever the children are learning.

“I think programs like this for at-risk youth are critically important because they’re going to grow into successful adults one day, and we want to promote that growth,” he says. “The Downtown Boxing Gym is irreplaceable. It’s an after school program that teaches books before boxing. That in and of itself is amazing. I love the camaraderie at the gym – we are like one big family – and I love the welcoming atmosphere.”

Youth Committee

In addition to his other duties, Shobi leads the Downtown Boxing Gym’s Youth Committee, a new effort to promote leadership skills among select older students. The group meets regularly to discuss the needs and wants of the gym from the students’ perspective. They’re also working on fundraising opportunities to supply the program with new/updated items or allow students to have “Fun Fridays.”

“All in all I’m working with these students to help them to grow in areas that are applicable to the real world,” he says. “Things like public speaking, organizational skills, time management, math, note taking, planning and more.”

Sometimes, Shobi’s volunteer work takes him outside the boxing gym. In March, he served as a chaperone for students participating in the Detroit Piston’s NBA Math Hoops competition at the Palace of Auburn Hills. The fast-paced basketball board game tests students’ math skills. Two Downtown Boxing Gym students ended up in the Final 4 amongst approximately 64 groups.

“We have third graders here doing algebra,” he says with pride. “You can really see the potential in these students doing so well in math at such a young age.”

Whether he’s cheering our students on at a math competition, tutoring, leading the youth committee, or just being there to talk with kids who need him, Shobi demonstrates the important role our volunteers play day in and day out. He has even brought friends and co-workers to the gym to see the program in action and meet the students he speaks about so glowingly.

“Our volunteers are truly a lifeline – they provide support to our coaches and staff,” says Jessica Hauser, the boxing gym’s executive director. “People like Shobi show our students how much members of the community care. He’s here every week without fail and he makes an important difference. It takes a team to help change lives. We are all working together to help our students shine.”

Click here to learn more about volunteering at the Downtown Boxing Gym.

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