Twitter employees open Oakland gym as alternative for youth

It’s martial arts with a mission. Two Twitter employees have opened the doors to a new Downtown Oakland gym.
They say they want it to be a place where children can be safe after school and learn healthy habits.

"We wanted to create a place where everyone, no matter what their financial situation is, could do martial arts," said Ben Kovacs, co-founder of Guardian Gym

The classes are given in a 1,800 square foot space.  

When Kovacs isn't working at Twitter in sales, he spends time here coaching and mentoring children and teens through boxing and Brazilian jiu-jitsu

"I'm doing something that I'm passionate about that I know will change a lot of these kids' lives," said Kovacs.

The one-two punch means combining his passion with a desire to help improve the city he calls home.

"There's a huge group of people who just couldn't afford to do it especially kids, said Kovacs. 

One of those kids is 11-year-old John Powell who's from a single-parent home.

Kovacs has been a big brother to the 6th grader for two years.
"I feel really close. I share things with him that I don't share with other people," said Powell. 

He says Kovacs and boxing have taught him how to relieve stress and anger.

"I feel free. I feel like I can do anything," said John. 

Guardian Gym also encourages girls to join. Knocking down stereotypes, Kovacs says it's an example of gender equality starting at an early age. 

"I'm just honestly grateful. I'm just grateful for them," said 15-year-old Chodenla Sherpa who tells KTVU she otherwise wouldn't be able to afford boxing lessons. 

Kovacs has recruited other Twitter employees such as Ashley Crisostomo, an account manager for the tech company.

"The dream is to kind of be the all-around place for these kids to be so they don't have to go do things other alternative things in Oakland that might get them in trouble," said Crisostomo.
Kovacs says this gym is a place to show children and teens there is a world of possibilities and to encourage them to aim high.

"You meet people at things like this, see that you're a good kid, you're a hard worker and you have some sort of passion and that's how you make those opportunities happen," said Kovacs.
He says funding for the Guardian Gym comes from donations and membership fees charged for adult classes.
Kovacs hopes to eventually expand to other locations.