The Good Fight Community Center expands with Bob Witte Art and Music Center

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Taija Schaller, 11, of La Crosse draws with others in the new Bob Witte Art and Music Center Friday at The Good Fight Community Center. The new room will provide a space for painting, drawing and guitar lessons.

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune

Nearly two and a half years in, The Good Fight Community Center continues to grow, starting as a boxing gym and education center for area youths and expanding into a hub for playing games, planning career paths and eating pizza with guest speakers and mentors.

This week, The Good Fight unveiled its newest addition, the Bob Witte Art and Music Center, a project brought to fruition in just two months. Named for a retired local physician and skilled painter, the Bob Witte Art and Music Center will serve as another creative outlet for some of the 150 kids and teens who have participated in Good Fight programming, which includes tutoring, field trips and sparring, since its founding in August 2016 by MTU bus driver and boxing coach Nate Coleman.

“I think our demographic has changed, and other kids are coming in that aren’t necessarily interested in boxing,” Coleman said. “We just thought, the more things we can offer to keep more kids out of the street and give them a positive activity, the better. We’re offering things that in the economy today might be considered extra and offering it for free.”

Coleman was able to create the new space, which joins the Larry Shapiro Job and Education Center, gaming area, library, food pantry and free clothes closet on the second floor of the building, for under $3,500. Coleman pitched the project at a La Crosse SOUP event Nov. 7 and was selected to receive the $2,400 raised through the crowdfunding event. An additional $1,000 from the La Crosse Community Foundation made it possible for Coleman to purchase adjustable drawing desks, easels and a closetful of paints, brushes, pastels and paper, as well as two acoustic guitars. An additional three guitars were donated on behalf of Instrument Repair La Crosse owner Jim Zell, his friend Brad Peterson and Paul Leithold of Leithold Music.

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Guitars are now available for lessons at the Good Fight Community Center for members interested in learning to play the instrument.

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune

“It’s a young person’s club where everyone can feel wanted and belong,” said Zell, who will also provide free lessons to Good Fight members starting next week. “I’m really impressed with the place, and I’m impressed with Nate.”

The Art and Music Center is flanked by a dozen portraits painted by Witte, who stopped by the Good Fight shortly after it opened, inspired by Coleman’s vision for a safe haven for disadvantaged or at-risk youths. A prolific painter, Witte proposed creating a fundraising calendar for which he would provide the art, free of charge. Witte spent a day photographing kids and staff in action, working from the photos to create detailed, inspired images.

A painting of member Gabby shows her resting against the boxing ring, and teen Emma is shown in two side-by-side portraits, one with a boxing glove on her hand and the other grasping a pencil as she tackles homework. A rendition of Tay shows the boy mid-punch, while a young man named DeAngelo offers a thumbs up during a lunch break. Coleman is shown with his trademark wide grin, brought to life through colorful strokes.

The detailed paintings took Witte nearly a year to complete, a project he calls an enjoyable challenge. A hundred calendars were printed and sold for $15 each, with all proceeds, and those from sales of prints of the original paintings, going to the Good Fight. It was just two weeks ago that Witte learned the new center would be named for his contribution.

“I was very honored but very humbled,” Witte said.

Though he led a watercolor session at the Good Fight last year, future lessons will be led mainly by UW-L art students, beginning at the end of January. Witte, however, will continue to support the organization wholeheartedly.

“I think what Nate is doing is wonderful,” Witte said. “One of the finest people I ever met — warm, a good heart and a lot of energy to help kids … This is something that was really needed.”