The inside of Carl Washington Youth Recreation Center isn't a pretty sight — at least at first glance.
Tables and chairs are scattered around the main floor. Old tools lean against the walls while paint cans lie haphazardly around the rooms.
Walk down the small hallway, though, and the view improves. Hundreds of framed newspaper clippings and pictures cover the walls, each with its own sentimental meaning. Take the first left, and memorabilia sits on the floor of two trophy rooms, waiting to be put in its proper place.
Enter the main room, and at the center sits the thing Carl Washington, the CW Youth Center's founder, calls the true beauty of this place: a boxing ring.
“This is a place for kids to do something positive or disciplined while keeping them off the streets,” said Washington, who founded the center 25 years ago.
Washington's youth center is a nonprofit organization focused on giving Omaha kids a constructive alternative after school. It's run by volunteers and offers a variety of activities, including basketball, music and dance.
Boxing is king, though, at CW Youth Center. Washington, 67, has produced many regional and national champions since the organization began in 1978. One of his former boxers even went up against Mike Tyson in 1982.
Best of all for the kids, this all comes free.
“I have never charged a kid a dime,” Washington said.
As consistent as the boxing program has been over the years, the organization's location has not.
Before finding its new home near 15th and Cass Streets, Washington moved CW Youth Center everywhere from his basement to the children's museum to an old warehouse. Each place either became too costly or too small.
Washington said he hopes the new location will work, though it needs some renovations. Some of that has already been done with the help of 40 volunteers from TD Ameritrade and members of Phi Delta Theta fraternity from Creighton University. They painted the outside and basement of the building last month. But much still needs to be done.
Washington walks into the room he calls the “Gold” room, ignoring the trophies and old television gathering dust on the floor. He points to the pyramid of pictures on the orange wall. The top donors and athletes are thoughtfully arranged there, each with a place in CW Youth Center's history.
The bottom of the pyramid is what draws Washington's attention, though. Fifteen pictures are in two rows, some with kids no older than 15. These are the members of the club that have been killed over the years.
“And there are still more to put up,” Washington said with a sigh.
Washington hopes he never has to add a picture to this part of the wall.
The key to that might be in the newly painted basement. Punching bags hang from the ceiling alongside two small boxing rings. Around 4 p.m., the kids start filing in. Two coaches watch carefully as the young athletes go through their exercises. Some do pushups or situps; others punch the air or hit a bag. Three minutes go by. A buzzer sounds. A 30-second countdown begins. Three minutes of work, 30 seconds of rest.
“When you go in there and see those kids going through boot camp gaining respect among each other, that's really cool,” said Mike Gritzuk, a regular volunteer at the youth center.
The kids, from age 5 on up, come from all over Omaha. Some ride in on their bikes while others come in with their parents. One even goes to Creighton University. Washington doesn't care where they come from, he just wants them to do something constructive with their free time. So far, he's been successful, bringing in as many as 500 kids a year, Gritzuk said.
And the ones who have gone through the program are already bringing their kids back. As many as 30 alumni showed up to the last showcase hosted by the center. Washington said he can go anywhere in Omaha — post offices, manufacturing companies, Union Pacific — and find old members. Washington wants that kind of community.
“I can reach out and touch 100 kids, but even if I make a difference in just one person's life, it's worth it,” Washington said.