A lifelong dream, the best of intentions and a space that formerly housed a furniture store is what Ray Hebert was working with when he opened Haverhill's Downtown Boxing club three years ago.
Boxing was a way for Hebert to keep himself out of trouble and off the streets when he started in the sport in 1965.
"This is what saved my life,'' he said. "I went to the Lowell Boys Club and I continued going there even when a lot of my friends didn't. They either ended up on drugs or dead.''
Hebert's objective is simple but challenging: Keep kids off the street and show them a good way of life. He invites everyone to come in and try the sport. If they like it, they can stay. One of his only conditions is that everyone must be enrolled in school. If not, they can come back when they start going to class.
"It's a lot of boys, but don't forget about the girls, too,'' Hebert said of the club's membership. "We probably have around 10 girls who fight here.''
In his effort to bring in young people and prevent them from falling through the cracks, Hebert understands that not all of them can afford the sport.
Between keeping the gym open, registering the kids with USA Boxing, and giving them the chance to fight in tournaments, fees quickly add up.
For those who can afford it, dues are $20 per month. For those who cannot, Hebert reaches into his own pocket and pays their way.
On any given night, about 25 kids, mostly high school age, are in the gym training.
Hebert attributes much of his success to his family, the trainers who help him out, and the local business and residents who are kind enough to donate.
One of those companies is New England Document Systems, based in Manchester, N.H.
Company president Nick Brattan said he is a firm believer in giving back to the community. Recently, he made a personal donation to Hebert's club, as well as one on behalf of the company.
"I love to help when I can. And this story, which I happened to see on the news, really touched me,'' Brattan said of Hebert's club. "One big thing in my life is passion. I believe if people are passionate about something, they can move mountains.''
Passion is no short supply at Downtown Haverhill Boxing. Hebert said any donation helps keep the doors open.
How the help the club
Donate by visiting www.gofundme.com/e7jv64
Visit the club's Facebook page