Every boxer worth his or her (smelling) salt needs a trusty cornerman.

For Uni Muniz – board president of the Jesse “The Law” Torres Boxing Club, whose gym is housed inside the Fox Valley Park District’s Copley Boxing & Training Center – she has a year-round stable at her disposal, sometimes 50 at a time.

Uni’s “cornermen” (a.k.a. volunteers), many of whom are at-risk kids whose previous decisions steered them into trouble, often arrive at the Boxing Club in search of community-service hours. They leave with so much more.

“We’re supposed to build civilians,” Uni says. “It’s not just, ‘You’re in trouble, you got yourself in a pickle. OK, you’re going to go clean toilets.’ No, here at our club, we don’t care what they did in order to come to us. We just make sure that when they come here, they’re going to learn a sense of purpose, a sense of pride and respect. And by the end, they connect with the community. They leave differently than how they came in. I really believe that with all my heart, because I see it.”

Uni’s group of cornermen (and women, to be fair) volunteer at several district-sponsored events or other functions in which the FVPD is involved. They’ve lent their services to the Mid-American Canoe & Kayak Race, National Night Out, the Fox Valley Amazing Race, Aurora GreenFest, and this past summer carried the FVPD banner at the Puerto Rican Heritage Parade, to name a few.

Uni’s team at the Boxing Club is connected to community-service groups in Kane and other neighboring counties. Given that some of her “students” arrive with, let’s say, predetermined attitudes, Uni often sets the proper tone – “I can be a little firm, I become like a mama bear,” she says – a tactic she uses to help build discipline, self-awareness and self-purpose.

“Our philosophy here at the Boxing Club, it’s about helping other people,” Uni says. “As we do that, they grow a sense of community. By the time they finish helping people out, they’re like, ‘Man, this is the Hilton of community service.’ Not only do they get the blessing of helping others, but they also receive self-worth and, really, that’s the bottom line.”

And, of course, with sometimes months of teamwork and collaboration grows a natural attachment, so parting serves as bittersweet.

“When their time’s up, we’ve already fallen in love with them,” Uni says. “As they leave, we know we did a little something better. We gave them an opportunity to be involved, to help others, and to find a purpose.”

Know what else they find? In Uni, someone in their own corner.