Lee Espinoza: “With this Spotlight grant, we’ll be safe for another year. I’ll buy all the equipment for the year, and we have enough to fix anything that might break, and pay the liability insurance for the gym and the board members.” Credit: Kevin Fitzgerald/CVI File

The H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation is awarding 12 grants of $25,000—one each month—to local nonprofits through its Coachella Valley Spotlight grants program, now in its 13th year.

Recipients this year so far include the January recipient, the Cathedral City Senior Center, to sustain online programming; the February recipient, the Family Health and Support Network, to make improvements to a recently acquired 7,000-square-foot facility in the Desert Highland Gateway Estates neighborhood of Palm Springs; and the April recipient, the Southern California Mountains Foundation Urban Conservation Corps, to help train young adults (18-25 years old) to become self-sufficient through public lands-related employment training.

As for the March recipient: It is Lee Espinoza’s Coachella Valley Boxing Club, which for years has been a haven for youth and others in Coachella.

“We got (the $25,000) right at the beginning of March,” said Espinoza, the founder and director of the free fitness facility. “Right now, we’re having problems trying to get (the new equipment we need) because of this COVID thing. I’m buying some new weight stuff for the gym, because some of our stuff now is too old. You wouldn’t believe it: Even though (this equipment) is made of iron or something real hard, it’s bent. Can you believe that our kids are so strong? I couldn’t believe it, and I laughed when I saw it.”

On a more serious note, Espinoza became emotional when discussing the good the grant will allow him to do.

“We really appreciate it,” Espinoza said. “I thank God that he’s watching over us, because it seems that whenever we need something, people come to (help) us. We don’t even have to go look for them, and then they come. Oh man, it’s beautiful. And they do things like that, because they believe in what we’re doing for the kids. You know that whoever stays and goes through our program, they become a better person.”

Any member of the community can go to the boxing club.

“Whoever comes in, 40 or 70 years old, they’re welcomed,” Espinoza said. “We’ve even got some guys who have Parkinson’s disease. So as long as you’re more than 8 years old, you can come in.”

Due to the pandemic, Espinoza has been running the gym at limited capacity.

“We can have 20 to 30 people come in a day,” he said. “When I open the door, I put a chair and stay right there. I check everybody’s temperature, and then they go in. If it’s a new kid or man or whatever, they just have to sign a release, and then they can go and train. Once our capacity is full, if more people come, I tell them, ‘Come back tomorrow, and come earlier. It’s first come, first serve.’”

Since the Coachella Valley Spotlight program began in 2009, more than $3 million in grants have been awarded to more than 100 local nonprofit organizations.

“Lee Espinoza and his team have built a place that welcomes all kids. They provide mentoring and the opportunity to learn important values like hard work and healthy lifestyles,” said Catharine Reed, vice president of charitable programs for the H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation.

The program includes a partnership with KESQ News Channel 3, which provides each monthly winner with promotion, including a news feature, public-service announcements and other publicity.

The Berger Foundation made some changes due to the especially tough environment for nonprofits right now.

“This was such an unusual year (due to COVID-19 pandemic) that the committee did actually give (the 12 recipients) the opportunity to request to receive their funds as early as this past January, even though they may not be the designated monthly recipient until later in the year,” explained Cara Van Dijk, a spokesperson for the Berger Foundation. “They could get the money earlier, if they felt they had a need. That was the first time that had ever been done in the history of the Coachella Valley Spotlight grant program.”

Espinoza said the grant offered the Coachella Valley Boxing Club a much-needed lifeline.

“With this Spotlight grant, we’ll be safe for another year,” Espinoza said. “I’ll buy all the equipment for the year, and we have enough to fix anything that might break, and pay the liability insurance for the gym and the board members.”

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Kevin Fitzgerald

Kevin Fitzgerald is the staff writer for the Coachella Valley Independent. He started as a freelance writer for the Independent in June 2013, after he and his wife Linda moved from Los Angeles to Palm...