The Santa Barbara Primo Boxing Club is facing financial difficulties and the possibility of losing its location at the old Haley Street fire station on October 8th due to cuts in city government funding.
The community center’s “Say Yes to Kids Program” has provided a safe place for neighborhood youth to hang out, work on homework and practice boxing since 1981. The club is strapped for funds after two years of decreased grants (from $32,000 to $10,000 a year) and the discontinuation of its popular “Fight Night” fundraiser at UCSB.
According to Jean Pommier, volunteer coach and co-owner with husband Joe Pommier, the organization has struggled with finances since becoming a non-profit in 1997.
“Primo Boxing ever since it was started was always in struggle,” Pommier said. “It’s a bare-bone operation. We work with very little. But because of the economy, donations are down and fundraisings are more difficult.”
Despite the lack of funding, Jean Pommier said the club’s reach has grown beyond the boxing ring to offer support in its student’s personal lives.
“It’s really like a community center,” Pommier said. “Kids can come in get their problems off their chest. They can practice and they can do homework and get help with that. We try to help them and their families.”
Primo alumni Mico Lopez said the center served as a refuge within the community.
“It means everything to me, and it meant Santa Barbara,” Lopez said. “You know, the place is by the high school and the junior high, smack in the middle of the neighborhood. Jean and Joe are always there. It was a safe place to be, a neutral place.”
Additionally, the gym provided a sense of family, Lopez said.
“We were a tight group, you know. I was there for sixteen years,” Lopez said. “I remember the birthdays. Jean and Joe had this calendar with everyone’s birthday. No matter what you got at home, they had cupcakes for you.”
Several groups have organized fundraisers and contributions for the boxing program including a college student association interested in hosting another Fight Night and Status Media Group’s corporate sponsorship offer, according to Jean.
“Money donations from people not living in this community started coming in,” Pommier said. “They heard about us through the mass media … there was a guy who was from Sacramento that sent us a donation.”
Bobby Martinez, professional surfer and Primo alumni, said losing the community center’s services would have a negative impact on the area’s youth.
“They’ve been helping people out [for] years,” Martinez said. “The kids won’t have something to do with the free time they have. It is going to suck.”
According to Lopez, the non-profit provides an integral mentoring program.
“We won’t hear the honking from the Primo van in the neighborhood anymore,” Lopez said. “But it has a lot of respect from the community. So I know it won’t be gone.”
Primo’s role within the city will help it continue operating, Jean Pommier said.
“We don’t have an address right now, so we can’t apply to receive anything,” Pommier said. “But I’m sure we’ll get grants the next time around. We’re the best investment in the community. Our kids have gone to become lawyers, doctors and get into colleges. And we’ve been here for thirty years.”
Joe Pommier said he and his wife will provide similar services regardless if the organization loses its facility.
“We decided to do this seventeen years ago and we knew that this was not going to be easy,” Pommier said. “Since then, our personal life has changed as well and got shaped around Primo. We don’t know what we’d do without it.”