Eighteen months ago, Paul Sayers walked into the Cannons Creek Boxing Academy as its new manager that was an organisational TKO in every way you could imagine.
While the academy had its regular members barely holding the fort, there were no school groups coming through, a lack of funding due to COVID, and no staff or coaches to be seen. Fast forward to today however, you'll find 11 different schools involved in their weekly programmes, regular funding coming through, six employed staff members, but more importantly, rangatahi who now have a new take on life through a dramatic boost in their mental and physical well-being.
And it all started with a vision from Sayers.
Sayers is Capital & Coast DHB's Celebrating Success' 2021 Outstanding Leadership award winner. Through boxing and implementing strong foundational values on life such as 'respect', he has led many youth from the wider Porirua community suffering from depression, loneliness, and even suicidal thinking, to confident, thriving, healthier mind-sets.
Sayers said he was "chuffed" to be recognised for his achievements with the academy.
"This is the first time I've won anything in a workplace so it was quite a cool experience because it reflects what's happened in the last 18 months for the Cannons Creek Boxing Academy," Sayers said.
"I came in post-COVID last year to no school groups being involved. There were no coaches with a female coach just leaving; it was basically just lacking in every way, so we were pretty much starting again. But now, having those school groups and actually having a facility that is thriving throughout the day is something really special."
What drove Sayers to get involved with the academy in the first place was the positive impacts he saw it had on young people when he would take them to the facility while working as a teacher's aide.
"I just loved what Cannons Creek Boxing Academy did and the positive effects I saw on the young people. So I wanted to increase that presence in schools again because I had seen first-hand how this academy had changed young people's lives and I wanted to be able to offer that again to the Porirua community."
Not only did he set up programmes with a main goal to get the academy involved with all the local schools, he reached out to the wider community for people to donate towards the fees for anyone who couldn't afford them. They also assisted the youth with their CVs, driver's licenses, and in looking for opportunities for work.
"We had young people who signed up to become members who couldn't afford the fees, so we got a fees assist programme going where people would donate five dollars a week that would go directly towards a young person's fees," he said.
"That helped a lot with mental well-being because for them, it meant they knew they could stay involved in the academy."
The academy's services couldn't have come at a better time for some.
"We had a period of time, especially during lockdown, where a lot of the members were coming in and speaking to us about how down they were," Sayers said.
"So we helped them and challenged them through our programmes at a holistic approach looking at all areas of their life such as their spiritual wellbeing, their mental well-being, and their physical health. Being connected into this place has been a huge help in that health side of young people from their mental health to their physical health."
And the results from Sayers toil have been showing.
"We get a lot of feedback from parents saying things like, 'my kid was shy at school and now they're making friends and they're learning how to connect with their peers better Another cool thing we hear all the time is 'my son is now helping out around the home because you've installed the value of respect'.
"Also, to hear some young people come in and say 'I've got some work this summer' is awesome. It's great knowing we are assisting young people on a more positive path."
Despite proud of the amazing achievements and the award, Sayers also made it clear, it was very much a team effort.
"The team we've built here has made all of this happen," he said.
"Without their support or without them being able to deliver the programme I couldn't do the back end. This award is really cool, but I never really want to do work to get a reward or be put on a pedestal. I feel proud but not satisfied because there is still more to do.