On a family vacation to the Philippines when she was 3, Laila Kholtaev wanted to help the unhoused children she saw in the streets. She asked her mom, Marilu Balista-Kholtaev, to buy food for them.
After their return to the United States, Laila began the annual tradition of distributing gift bags at her mom’s work every December.
“She has a heart for donating money or raising money for kids,” the mom said of the now-8-year-old. “I’m very proud of her, and I didn’t teach her that. She did it on her own.”
Laila’s latest charitable work has her and her mom raising money for a kids’ martial arts scholarship at Laila’s dojo, Premier Martial Arts in Lawrence (PMA). So far, they’ve raised about $500 for the cause.
Chansi Long – a survivor of domestic violence who has witnessed the benefits of martial arts in her own children – helped launch the Kids Karate Fund in partnership with The Willow Domestic Violence Center and PMA. She hopes the scholarships will change lives by enabling youth to realize the “power” of martial arts.
Long said her life changed when she started her martial arts journey a year ago. She only wished she’d discovered the practice earlier. Long’s history includes domestic violence trauma in both her childhood and adult life.
“I could have benefited from better emotional regulation, better self-confidence, all of those things that martial arts yields. And had I gotten those earlier, I mean, it could have been a whole different set of choices.”
As an adult, Long sought supportive services from the Willow, where she safely sheltered for two months. Despite a “really valuable” experience at the shelter, Long said she left with low self-esteem.
“I was not very empowered yet. And then I enrolled my kids in martial arts, and they’ve been doing it for a couple of years. I saw how much it has improved their confidence, but also it has reduced their anxiety. They, after a few months, had just really been showing a lot of benefits that eventually, when I enrolled I also experienced.”
Long said child survivors of domestic violence suffer in short- and long-term ways. She sees the scholarship as a way to empower children who have experienced trauma.
“Their grades are often lower. They experience more anxiety and depression. And they are more likely to get into abusive relationships later on in life. In contrast, studies show that students of martial arts perform better academically, experience less anxiety and depression and gain self-confidence, which makes them less likely to stay in relationships when they turn abusive.”
Willow Executive Director Megan Stuke said healing takes time and intention.
“Often survivors and their children do not have the resources or opportunity to engage in the activities that will help them on their healing journey. That’s why this resource will be pivotal for folks who need a way to work through the trauma they’ve experienced,” Stuke said in a news release.
PMA students – including Long’s daughters, Ophelia and Millie Beckley – have been canvassing neighborhoods and calling on friends and relatives for donations. So far, they’ve raised enough funds to sponsor six months’ worth of tuition and gear – about $2,000 – for two children who were displaced from their homes by domestic violence.
Mark and Sara Taylor, co-owners of PMA Lawrence, have a history of coordinating community service efforts. They encourage students to earn badges for community service and have also sponsored annual donation drives for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and local food banks.
Mark said he hoped members of the dojo would continue to raise funds several times a year for youth to partake in what he called “confidence training” and would sponsor tuition and gear for at least one or two students each year.
Raising money is only part of the fun. The youngsters will celebrate their efforts with a Kick-a-Thon, where they’ll “earn” the donations they’ve raised by kicking nonstop for five, 10 or 15 minutes, depending on their age.
“Premier’s Kick-a-Thon helps our kids understand the value of community service and what it means to give to others when they need assistance,” Sara said in the news release. “We believe that this event will help our community see there are survivors and there are ways to support them through their healing process.”
PMA’s inaugural Kick-a-Thon starts at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, May 7, at Premier Martial Arts, 3201 Clinton Parkway Court (near the intersection of Clinton Parkway and Kasold Drive). Those who’d like to donate to the Kids Karate Fund can make a donation to @kidskaratefund via Venmo or PayPal. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
And students who raise $100 qualify to throw a pie at the face of longtime PMA instructor Steven Howe. Members of the DC and Marvel cosplay and charitable group Just-Us League will appear at the Kick-a-Thon. The Taylors encourage members of the public who’d like to attend to come out and cheer on participants.
Long said kicking continuously is not easy and can lead to very sore muscles.
“It requires a certain amount of perseverance that I think is admirable. And these kids are 5 to 18. A lot of the little kids are so into it. It’s just something to see, them continuing to work past their limit, or their edge, that determination to reach that goal.”