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WOODLAND PARK • A Woodland Park karate center owner has a new take on stemming the tide of bullying and teen suicide.

Thom Seehafer has created a 501©3 nonprofit, Colorado Phoenix Project, and plans to build a fitness center offering boxing lessons and other programs to help build resiliency, confidence and self-esteem among at-risk youth and vulnerable adults.

“The idea is one of bringing the community together,” said Seehafer, who is in his fifth year of owning Kempo Karate.

While training children and adults in martial arts, Seehafer started hearing about how physical, verbal and cyber bullying are taking a toll on today’s youth.

“Martial arts gives a creative outlet to deal with the frustration, anger and other emotions,” he said. ‘It teaches self-discipline, self-respect, self-awareness, self-defense and self-confidence.”

Similarly, Seehafer believes boxing can provide the same type of outlet and confidence booster for at-risk children as well as adults who have experienced trauma and tragedy, including veterans.

He envisions the center as a judgment-free safe zone for those who enter, with mentors available.

“Nobody wants to talk about bullying and suicide, but it happens,” he said.

“There’s not a lot to do up here, and without authoritative figures in their lives, kids can make the wrong choices sometimes.”

Teller County had 12 deaths by suicide in 2018, according to Coroner Kayla Daugherty. None were under age 18, but one was in the 19-25 age range. That ties the highest amount in the county since 2004. In 2015, the county also had 12 suicides, according to the Colorado Violent Death Reporting System.

Eight Teller County teens ages 15-19 have died by suicide from 2004-2017, according to the reporting system.

Seehafer said his programs are not about the fighting but about “standing up for yourself and bringing the confidence and reaction time to use the proper tools, if needed.”

He’s working on securing a location for the new center, likely in the same Gold Hill South strip mall as his karate business.

Seehafer’s booming voice, intense gaze and own sense of being comfortable in his skin help him deliver valuable lessons.

His method is “more than just the routines of learning the moves,” said parent Lissa Wellborn, whose 16-year-old son has been working with Seehafer since October, after he was threatened and bullied at school.

“Thom’s positive attitude and support that he shared with our son completely changed the trajectory of his future,” she said. “He no longer walks around with the ‘victim’ mentality and attitude.

“He knows he can defend himself, should the situation call for it, but most importantly, the fact that he knows Mr. Thom has his back and gives him the confidence to stand up to bullies.”

Wellborn said she’s excited for the new boxing center to open.

“I know that the students who walk in through those doors will be changed immensely, for the better,” she said. “This project will bring together people who come from different walks of life and will find that common ground and support that most children need.”

Seehafer teaches kids to “live, laugh and love,” and use their voices, their bodies, their minds and their energy to be powerful, like a superhero.

Kids lack resiliency to deal with problems because they’re afraid they won’t be liked, Seehafer believes.

“No one likes to be a leader, everyone likes to be a follower,” he said. “If you’re outside the norm, you’re subject to name calling, you have challenges, you lose your friends.”

Kinisha Blevins, a certified health coach, said Seehafer’s big heart for kids helps them accomplish great things.

She and her husband have worked with Seehafer on personal health, and he invited her 9-year-old son to work out with them.

“It’s boosted his confidence and taught him that challenging one’s self produces cool results,” she said.

Seehafer is planning a spring fundraiser to help launch the center.

“We’re going to hit Woodland Park pretty hard,” he said. “This has been in the back of my mind for a long time. My training is about how many people can I help change their lives.”

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.

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