One factor that contributes to the cost of any recreational activity for kids is the facility. In Odessa, however, there is an alternative already in place that's about to become a lot more enticing for local families who can't afford karate academies or the YMCA.
Cheryl Cleveland began teaching martial arts classes at the Odessa Recreation Center four years ago and quickly saw her class size grow beyond what the facility could handle. At the First Baptist Church where she volunteered, Cleveland found more than a short-term answer to her problem.
"One day I asked about the building next door, and they said they had no plans for it," said Cleveland, a third-degree black belt. "It looks small, but the inside is 7,000 square feet. So I started using the money from my classes, which runs on a donation basis only, to renovate the building. My original goal was to open by January of 2010, but now it looks like we may be able to open it as early as September or October."
Cleveland has dumped $60,000 into the project since the idea first came to her two years ago. Some of the funds came from donations, but she has had to take out a line of credit to fund the project. Cleveland has established her school of martial arts and the new Community Fun and Fitness Center as a nonprofit organization, and is excited about the possibilities that brings.
"Especially right now, it's difficult for families to spend money on a YMCA," Cleveland said. "With these classes, you pay what you can when you can. The new facility will be the same as what we're doing now, but we'll be able to offer other programs other than just martial arts."
For now, Cleveland conducts her classes in an open room at the church where her students meet with little more than a few mats and a couple of punching bags. What Cleveland is able to do with the kids using the little she has impresses parents of her students. Chris Eisel drives from Holiday so her child can participate in the program because of the work Cleveland does with the kids.
"The new facility will be nice, but this class is great because of the instruction the kids receive," Eisel said. "Cheryl is amazing. She spends enough one-on-one time with them so that kids learn and she is there to help them with whatever they need."
For her students, the new facility will be a luxury that opens up more possibilities for them. But, like their parents, the instruction has drawn them to it.
"I'm excited to have all padded floors because we'll be able to spar, which is something we can't do in this class," 13-year-old student Matthew Pate said.
"Cheryl's the best instructor I've ever had in my time doing martial arts," he said. "I'm excited to see what she's going to have us do once we move into a better facility."
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