Jason Mata Wins Jefferson Award for West Side Youth Boxing Program

Reported by: Randy Beamer of News 4 WOAI
Jason Mata is passionate about helping young people.”I do it because I want to change lives,” he tells me. “And I want to improve this community. I see it in all the kids here.”Between an outdoor boxing ring and a small gymnasium building, Mata is encouraging a group of two dozen young people as they go through a series of exercises.

“Straighter. Straighter. Straighter! Come on guys! Come on Maria, let’s go!

Mata is trying to reach and help the kids in the historic Prospect Hill neighborhood where he grew up — and where he still lives.

“This program, in this neighborhood brings a positive impact to the kids. There is a lot of crime around here. Petty crimes, serious crimes. This organization is housed right in the trenches of all that.”

Advocates Social Services is the non-profit organization his father started nearly 35 years ago.  Its offices are in a stately old house in the 1900 block of Buena Vista in the heart of San Antonio’s West Side. From the front yard, you can get a nice glimpse of the downtown skyline, less than two miles away.

The Advocates Youth Boxing Program is an outgrowth of the Social Services organization. It’s a volunteer-run, after-school and summer program housed in that small gymnasium behind the old house.

Jason and his father, Charlie, started the boxing program together in 1999. And it’s a natural for them because Charlie Mata was a Golden Gloves Champion boxer in the 1960′s.

But it’s clear this program is as much about conditioning, discipline, and respect, as it is about jabs, uppercuts, and footwork.

Mata says the young people need structure in their lives. “Structure starts to change them. Then they come here they become, from being the bad boy, now they’re part of the group. And they’re giving high-fives to the other kids when they’re doing good. So that change right there is awesome to see.”

One of the students, Marce Marquez, agrees. “You learn discipline, respect. You really make yourself a better person. And you just kind of get yourself to keep doing things and stay out of trouble.”

“For the kids to have this place to go to after school, and right now in the summer, time to be available to them, it’s something that they appreciate.” Mata says.
“They take what they learn here back home. And we’re boosting their self-esteem which, in my opinion, if you can boost their self-esteem they are less likely to get pregnant, less likely to be in gangs, more likely to do better in school, and more likely to be productive citizens.

Teenager Nora Duarte says she’s proud of how far she has come in the program since she first came here about a year ago. “I got in here because, I don’t know, nothing to do at home. I was bored… and I’m getting pretty good already.”

But it takes kids some time just to be allowed to step inside this outdoor ring because Mata says the program is about life and boxing, not just fighting.

He emphasizes technique and attitude — the sport of boxing. And he won’t allow anyone here who fights in the streets.

“It takes a while before kids come and actually start like sparring. We want to make sure they’re able to have the basics down, their foot work, their hands up. Knowing how to breathe, how to relax, learn how to throw the punches right, how to snap the punches. All that is part of defense. If they can’t handle that, they’re not ready to get in the ring.

Reaching kids this way also helps Jason and Advocates Social Services reach their families.  And in this neighborhood, some of those families really need help.

“There might me resources like food stamps that they’re not tapping into,” Mata says. “Or maybe they’re trying and they’ve applied but they’re having these issues, there’s a lot of problems with that. There are other issues, maybe they’re facing utility disconnects. We have a very good social network. We use all that here with the kids.

Jason also wants the boxing program and its help with families to be part of the revitalization of this old neighborhood.  Some well-known and successful San Antonians grew up here. But most of them left.

“Many people have come from this area, but they’re not here anymore. And I’m not saying that in a negative way. I’m just saying that they should come back or at least their kids should stay here and help out — not abandon the area that you grew up in.

I’m sure I could, but I don’t do that. I want to stay here. My family lives here. It’s something that we’re very proud of. There’s a lot of problems but there’s also a lot of people here that want to help.

One of the parents who volunteers to help appreciates Mata’s work. “We’ve been in the program four years and it’s been a blessing, says Jaime Castro.

Castro sees what the program has meant to his 11-year-old son, Joseiah. “Discipline, not hanging around in the streets. With better people, better kids.

Joseiah tells me he enjoys being here. “And it keeps me off the streets, or not doing drugs or not doing things like those other guys,” he says.

I ask if he wishes that those ”other guys” he knows in this neighborhood would come to the boxing program. Yeah, but they make bad choices so I’m not trying to follow in their footsteps.”

Bettrer to follow in the footsteps of Jason Mata, who sees what he does here as a kind of calling.

“It’s more like an obsession at this point. Where you’re just gonna do it, because that’s all you know what to do.”

Congratulations to Jason Mata. You can check out the links to the Advocates Youth Boxing Program at the top of this page.  And you can nominate someone you know for the Jefferson Award.

Once a year, one of the monthly winners of the Jefferson Awards in this area is chosen to go to Washington, D.C. to be part of the National Awards.

San Antonio teenager Tony Ramirez — who was chosen this past spring – will be going to Washington, D.C. next week for the special events.  Stay tuned. We’ll have a look at what he’s doing there on News 4 WOAI and woai.com.

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