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A pivotal boxing moment

Craig Nees, Lindsey ‘Cowboy’ Maclean, Henry Fa’afili and Paora Howe. Photo: Bruce Barnard.

I’ve met a lot of people around Tauranga who one day just have a pivotal moment.

They step back from their lives a moment, take a look at what they’re doing, what their skill set is, and realise they can do something more.

Something beyond themselves that makes a massive difference for others. 

Craig Nees is one of those people. I was walking by when he and others came out of the back of the Moana Trust hall with paint buckets and rubbish. I said ‘hello’, we chatted and I found myself going in to see why he was so enthusiastic.

Looking around at the paint buckets and plastic coverings, he smiled.

His vision of establishing the Tauranga Boxing Academy was coming to fruition very fast.

“We had nothing 18 months ago,” says Craig. “Back then it was just an idea. I wanted to help youth at risk and young boys in some way.

“In Tauranga there’s a lot of youth growing up in fairly challenging circumstances. They’re bright and survivors, and if we can get them refocused they’ll be our future leaders.”

He recounted his own pivotal moment.

‘It’s funny. I was down in Wellington on business,” says Craig. “I woke up, it was a Tuesday and I still remember it as clear as day. I didn’t have a meeting in the morning so had a bit of spare time.”

The night before he’d seen some information about Billy Graham’s Naenae Boxing Academy that helps troubled youth.

“It all came together. I thought - I’ll go and see if Billy Graham can help me get a programme like his started in Tauranga.

“So I went and knocked on his door. He opened it and said ‘Who are you?’

“I said ‘I’m Craig Nees, and I hope to be your friend’. It started a fantastic relationship.”

Craig’s business background provided a major part of the skill set required to establish an academy that not only was about boxing, but also instils life values. He has a business called International Merchants which imports and distributes home improvement products.

He put together a strong, financially well-structured board, and a team of people who have the same heart about helping disadvantaged youth. People like ex-Warriors player Henry Fa'afili, manager Paora Howe, and assistant coach Lindsey ‘Cowboy’ Maclean.

Adapting Billy’s programme, the newly formed Bay of Plenty Youth Foundation Trust started the Tauranga Boxing Academy at the FitCo gym, working initially with 12-15 boys.

“Some of them have been referred by outside organisations who ring us up asking if we can help their boys. Some of them have brought their mates.

“We have up to five coaches and a manager. Boxing is part of the programme, it gets them through the door and enables us to encourage them to get fit.

“We also teach them about life values; respect, responsibility, compassion, consideration, kindness, duty, obedience, honesty, truthfulness, and work ethics. Already we’ve seen a big turnaround in some of the boys.

“And now we’re going to be moving in here to the new gym.”

With completion date the end of May, the new gym will mean increasing programme capacity to 80 boys, providing a huge opportunity to engage with them at a more intensive level and offer mentoring and work experience.

“We’re already working with one boy in getting him construction employment opportunity. The exciting thing is we’ve got significant companies in the Bay of Plenty who want to work with us and offer these young people work experience and apprenticeships when they’re ready to work. That’s gold for us because that’s really why we’re putting this together.”

The refurbishment of the building, which started about March, includes a new kitchen complete with ovens, dishwasher, fridge, freezer and breakfast bar. A 2.4m table with 14 chairs will provide space for meeting with the boys to talk.

“In terms of the building, iLine Construction, JT Plumbing, Placemakers, Robertson, Mastercraft, Resenes and Aotea Electrical and many others have been very generous in their support,” says Craig. “Otherwise we couldn’t do this.”

NZCT, TECT, the NZ Lottery Grants Board, and the Legacy Trust have provided significant funding, and Craig pauses to consider the large group of people who have also supported it.

“One thing I’ve learned from this, is the other people that are in this environment helping youth or other people – they’re so selfless and humble. Working with them is a real privilege.

“I’ve done a lot of things in my life in business, some successful some not, like everyone else, but I’ve never done anything that I’ve been so pleased to be part of and yet there’s no financial reward.

“The reward is in helping other people.”

Along the way Craig’s discovered so many other people in our Tauranga community also ‘doing their bit’, which is a common catchphrase I’ve heard.

“We’re only here for a short space of time and you get to the stage in your life where you want to start giving because you realise, honestly, that you’ve been selfish in your life. And you know that you can be a part of making a difference.”

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