A young boxer in Chattanooga has been saved from the tough streets and turning his life around.
His father was out of his life and his older brother is in prison.
In fact, that brother referred him to the YCAP program, Youth Community Action Project, several years ago.
YCAP is a non-profit organization under the umbrella ov the YMCA.
After his brother's referral, 20-year-old Roger Hilley is punching his way out.
On Thursday afternoon, Hilley warmed up on a punching bag. He loosens up on it frequently when he goes through his daily training.
He's a southpaw with a mean jab.
He came into the Youth Community Action Project, or Y-CAP, when he was only nine years old and was living at College Hill Courts. His home life wasn't good and he'd seen drugs at a young age.
But the YCAP program has made a difference in his life. Hilley said, "This program mans everything to me. Without this program, I wouldn't be who I am today."
Today, he lives in YCAP's Hope House, a transitional home for young men with drug, criminal or risky pasts.
And he works a construction job and trains almost every day after work. Joe Smith, YCAP's Regional Director, brought Roger under his wing. Smith said, "Roger is like a son to me. To watch the young man, knowing his background, knowing the dysfunction that he came out of and knowing that he was in a hole before life ever started for him."
Smith's son Andy, who has coached with the U.S. Olympic team, is Roger's trainer. Andy Smith said, "Roger's a tremendous boxer."
Last month, he fought in the Ringside World Championships in Independence, Missouri. 1,500 boxers from many countries were there.
Hilley fought his way through and won the 132 pound weight class. He has his goals set much higher. "I'd like to see myself as a 2016 Olympian, I like to see myself moving forward in the career of boxing and making a name for myself."
His trainer said this fighter has got the potential and the passion. "Absolutely, he can make it. Just got to eat, breathe and sleep it."
And he does.
YCAP is more than just a transitional home and boxing program, called Jabbin' for Jesus. YCAP has tutors, mentors and life counselors. A garden sits across the street from the transitional home. There, students are taught about the growing process and nutrition. Across from the gym is a woodshop. Instructors use it to "disguise" math principles implemented in measuring and angles on student made craft projects.
Hilley was a project when he first came in the door and he's come a long way. Joe Smith wants to see increases beyond the boxing ring. "Of course we want them to win when they compete in this great sport. But more importantly, we want them to win in life."
Smith's son has spent so much time in the ring with Hilley. But winning championship belts and medals isn't his top wish for the young fighter. "Probably to me, more than anything, is seeing him become a successful young man."
And the boxer himself puts his relationship with the Smith's in real life terms. "They're my family. And without them, I'd probably be dead or in jail."
In January, Hilley travels to Spokane, Washington for the U.S. Championships. That will be a key first step in his journey to the Olympics.
And if you would like to become a part of YCAP's programs, you can. They're looking for volunteers and/or donations. To find out more, simply give Joe Smith a call. He can be reached at (423) 400-8472.
by John Madewell