The Community Youth Athletic Center (CYAC) began in 1991 in Carlos Barragan’s backyard, but over the years has opened its doors to more than 1,000 youngsters. The program serves between 50 and 75 children, but at any given time the waiting list of kids wanting to join in is always huge. Carlos and his son, Carlos, Jr., who goes by JR, had had enough of the drugs and gang violence in their neighborhood. They saw too many boys lost first to the streets and then to the prisons. They decided to do what they could to help.
But Carlos and JR were not lawyers or politicians or activists. They were construction workers. So they had to figure out what they could offer kids who had found surrogate families in the Latino gang subculture that prevails in many working-class neighborhoods throughout southern California. The Barragans decided to teach something they knew well: boxing. Their aim was to use boxing as a way to instill values like discipline, respect and self-control. They also wanted to give kids, especially those from abusive and dysfunctional homes, a safe place to go after school.
So Carlos and JR hung a punching bag in the back yard and discovered that if you build it, they will come. Pretty soon they were overrun with kids, both boys and girls, who would crowd into their yard after school to jump rope, work the heavy bag, and dream of being Rocky Balboa.
It was not long before their boxing program outgrew the Barragan’s backyard, so they rented a two-car garage with their own money and set up a little gym. Carlos and JR would work construction jobs all day and then spend two or three hours a night coaching. The Barragans were soon joined by other volunteers and local law enforcement agencies donated equipment. Everyone who works out with the Barragans must show Carlos and JR their grades and must commit to improving them.
In 2000, a local TV station ran a piece on the CYAC. This coverage inspired UPS to award the gym a $100,000 grant for equipment. The Barona Band of Mission Indians, a longtime supporter that regularly hosted boxing events for the kids at the tribe-owned casino, generously gave the boxing program $170,000. This money, combined with the UPS money, enabled the new non-profit to buy a 3,700 square-foot building in downtown National City along National City Boulevard, the city’s main thoroughfare. The building had previously housed a gun store.
In January 2002, after much volunteer labor and donated materials, the boxing club officially opened at its present location as the Community Youth Athletic Center. Since then, the CYAC added a computer room and a mentoring program. The CYAC holds one fundraiser each year at the Barona casino where regional law enforcement officers stage exhibition bouts in the “Battle of the Badges” (slogan: “To Protect, Serve and Pummel”), raising about $50,000.
The CYAC remains steadfast in its commitment to staying where it is and preserving what it worked so hard to build.