MIDLOTHIAN — A Midlothian man was invited to the White House because of his work with a boxing program in the city he serves.
Grand Prairie Police Department Sgt. Alex Bielawski and his community youth partner Indeya Smith were invited to the White House’s Eisenhower Complex to participate a panel discussion by the “Champions of Change” honorees on Sept. 21. The champions are teams of young people and law enforcement officers who teamed up to improve youth and law enforcement relationships and improving public safety, according to a press release from the White House.
The Youth Boxing Program focuses on Grand Prairie residents or Grand Prairie ISD students between 14 and 18 years of age, and has about 45 students a day working with four coaches, Bielawski said. The beginner level focuses on conditioning and hitting bags, while the advanced level students begin to spar and compete. Smith participated in the program for three years and was nationally ranked fifth in her weigh class.
The gym is also a community gathering place, Bielawski said.
“The moms started their own Pilates class in the corner,” he said.
Receiving the honor from the White House was a shock to him, Bielawski said. Grand Prairie’s Deputy Chief Ronny Morris nominated Bielawski and Smith for the award but didn’t tell him, he said.
“I was sitting in my office and the phone rang,” he said. “The lady said, ‘This is the White House calling.’”
Bielawski said he didn’t believe the woman and thought it was a scam until she directed him to check his email and look for a message from the White House’s official email. The woman was calling for more information on the program and two weeks later, Bielawski, Smith and their families were officially invited to the White House, he said.
Everyone invited had to pass a background check before being admitted to the panel, Bielawski said, including the police officers. After the discussion, they and the other champions were introduced to Vice President Joe Biden and other politicians.
“It was sort of a who’s who in Washington D.C.,” he said. “All those faces you see on TV, we got to be there with them.”
The Youth Boxing program focuses on teaching students leadership skills and keeping them healthy and focused on education, he said. The motto of the program is creating leaders through boxing, Bielawski explained.
“If we can give the kid that already gets in a little trouble an avenue to get rid of that goofy energy, it’s a win,” Bielawski said.
Once a student is moved to the advanced program, the police officers who are present each time the gym is open check in on the student’s grades occasionally, he said. If the student begins to fail, they are not allowed to compete.
“We will get them tutors at school,” he said.
The officers also travel to each of competitions students participate in, Bielawski said. The program is registered with U.S.A. Boxing, he said. Even though he started and manages the program, Bielawski down played his role.
“It’s really easy to set things up when you don’t have to worry about needing another $50,” he said, explaining that local businesses and area charitable groups help students cover travel costs or new equipment. “We got a great response from the community and people just started coming in.”
He started the boxing program three years ago after Grand Prairie police chief Steven Dye approached him with the idea, he said.
“I said, ‘Chief, is it important that I don’t know anything about boxing?’ He said ‘Nope, you will learn,’” Bielawski said.
The support he and the program received from the community and the school district made setting up the program easy, he said. Grand Prairie ISD superintendent Susan Hull allowed the program to use an old elementary school gymnasium and community members with experience in boxing stepped up to coach, he said.
Smith began training with the program after her family moved to Texas from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. Her mother was the one who pointed out the flyer to her, she said.
“I’m very happy my mom found this program. I don’t even want to think about what I would be without it,” Smith said.
When she first moved to Texas, she spent a lot of time alone in her house, she said. Getting involved in the program helped her make friends and gain confidence in herself.
“I have boys who won’t spar with her because she hits too hard,” Bielawski said with a chuckle.
Traveling to Colorado to try out for the Olympic team was one of the great experiences the program gave her, Smith said.
She currently interns at the Grand Prairie Police Department, knocking on doors to take witness statements of traffic accidents and directing traffic while attending classes at Tarrant County College. Even though at 19-year-old she has aged out of the program, the boxing coaches let her come and work out there and she continues to set the example for other participants.
Getting to meet the other young people honored with Smith and Bielawski was one of the highlights of the trip, she said.
“One girl was the CEO of her own company,” Smith said, adding another group of students had teamed up with police to start a skate park and perform community service.
At the gym, the students continue to train, Bielawski said.
“The kids are tickled to death when they win a local tournament, for one of their own to be selected to go to the White House — I don’t think that has sunk in yet,” Bielawski said.
Contact Bethany Kurtz at 469-517-1450 or email email@example.com. Follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BethanyKurtzMidloMirror or on Twitter @bethmidlomirror.