While boxers and ring girls take center stage at the Pi Kappa Alpha (PIKE) fraternity’s annual Fight Night, directors of a downtown organization called the Say Yes to Kids Foundation said proceeds from the event help change lives.
Nearly 20 years old, the Say Yes to Kids Foundation is an after school program run out of the Primo Boxing Club in downtown Santa Barbara, and is designed to keep at-risk youth out of trouble and off the streets, said Jean Pommier, the club’s program director. Say Yes to Kids also serves as a community center where local kids can do their homework, lift weights, play basketball, do puzzles and participate in other recreational activities. The foundation is open Monday through Saturday from 4:30 to 8 p.m. and usually has 25 to 40 youth in attendance each night. The use of the facility is free to people under the age of 21.
Pommier said she has been in charge of writing grants, organizing trips, tutoring the children and working with probation officers and teachers for the past decade. Her husband, Joe Pommier is the program’s boxing coach.
“Say Yes to Kids is one of the most popular organizations in Santa Barbara for kids,” Jean Pommier said. “We have helped hundreds of kids get off of probation, get jobs, improve in school and go to college when they didn’t think they could.”
There are countless success stories about kids who have grown up in the foundation, she said.
“One of our kids, who has been coming to Primo since he was 10, is one of the lead amateur boxers in the country,” she said. “He’s only 19 and plans on turning pro in a month. He’s gotten a chance to accomplish his dreams.”
Jean Pommier said she and her husband’s involvement with the charity lead them to establish strong connections with the kids.
“Joe and I are always there,” Jean Pommier said. “The consistency has really helped the kids. We have kids that have been coming to Primo for 10 years. They grow up, get married and are on their way to starting their own families, but they make time to volunteer [at Primo]. We’re like one big family.”
There is no core staff or team of volunteers for Say Yes to Kids, Jean Pommier said. Two or three volunteers help every once in a while, but they are mainly people who have been involved with the boxing club.
Because she and her husband want to keep Say Yes to Kids as a free resource for children and low-income families, Jean Pommier said they work hard and ask for financial help to keep the program afloat. This will be the 14th year UCSB’s chapter of PIKE has given proceeds from its Fight Night event to the organization. Each year the amount of funds raised grows, she said. Last year, the fraternity awarded $9,000 to the foundation.
PIKE philanthropy chair Art Madrigal said the high cost of sponsoring Fight Night detracts from giving as much as the fraternity would like.
“Everything that is left over after covering all the expenses goes to Say Yes to Kids,” said Madrigal, a second-year law & society major. “We have to pay for renting out the Thunderdome, police and security, production of the tickets and posters and insurance for the event. Last year, this amount was $22,000 and it increases each year. This event is our philanthropy event, and we are not [allowed] to take any money from that. We’re going to continue to give to this charity because the event passes on from generation to generation.”
Former PIKE philanthropy chair John Hansen said Primo is the fraternity’s partner in organizing Fight Night.
“Fight Night works through Primo Boxing Club; they help organize the ring, bring referees and provide the equipment,” Hansen said. “We established a relationship with them because through their charity, they help us out. It’s a mutual thing.”
As the city continues to raise the rent on the Primo Boxing Club facilities, Jean Pommier said the charity is seeking new sources for money. Because the amount given by PIKE is not a constant rate, Jean Pommier said she has been setting up a booth for the past three years that sells pazoles and slushies for the charity at the annual Fiesta celebration downtown as a means to obtain more funding.
Say Yes to Kids also relies on grants, she said. A few years ago, a donation from the Santa Barbara Foundation enabled Jean Pommier to purchase a van for the charity. This year, Human Services gave the foundation $24,000 to cover taxes and salary expenses.
Jean Pommier said she is waiting to hear back from the Brown Foundation about her proposal for $40,000 in grant money to pay for additional Say Yes to Kids resources. The extra money not used on rent, insurance, salaries and taxes will go toward a trip in the summer for the kids.
Jean Pommier said a recent break-in robbed the charity of some important supplies.
“Some gang kids stole some equipment,” she said. “They made it difficult for us. My cash register was ruined. They stole the industrial stove and now we have to work on getting money to replace it.”
Despite such setbacks, Jean Pommier said she has future aspirations for the foundation that would ensure its longevity in benefiting the community.
“Some day we hope to have our own building,” Jean Pommier said. “Since [the program] has gotten popular, we need more room for the kids. We would like to have it where Primo would never have to worry about closing its doors. A big concern of the kids is that they never want it to close. We had to fight to keep this building at one point – and it was scary.”
PIKE is a big help in this fight, she said.
“I’m really proud of the young men who put on Fight Night,” Jean Pommier said. “I’m impressed with the boys who have gotten involved. They really do a good job and take it seriously. They know we’re needy and how much it means to us. In the past years, we’ve gotten to know [the PIKE fraternity members] well. They come in [to see the children] and it inspires the kids to want to go to a university and be like them.”
Hansen said working with Say Yes to Kids has made a lasting impact on his and his fraternity brothers’ lives.
“It’s been a rewarding program,” said Hansen, a senior political science major. “Seeing all the kids that are involved in the program is exciting. The [members of PIKE] have really big hearts and enjoy doing it. We get to see the benefits and the kids we actually help.”
Madrigal said despite the stress that comes with organizing Fight Night, he is glad to be part of it.
“It’s been hard for me putting in time to get [the event] organized and make it happen,” he said. “But, it makes me feel better giving [the proceeds] to the kids. That’s what I look forward to; it makes me happy.”