Maggie Messina started Taecole Taekwondo, her Albertson martial arts studio, to give kids something she never had, she said.
Messina grew up in the foster care system and didn’t see her parents much, she said.
Martial arts became an important outlet for her as a teenager.
At her studio, opened 16 years ago, Messina aims to form personal relationships with each of her students and give them a safe, supportive place to learn taekwondo, she said — resources she didn’t always have as a kid.
And for the past two years, she’s given some of her students a chance to show off for Martial Arts Day at Citi Field.
Messina’s students were about among about 100 that performed before Sunday’s New York Met’s game, she said.
“It’s just to bring a positive to the martial arts industry,” said Messina, an Albertson resident. “Sometimes people think it’s about kicking and punching and it’s the bad guy in ‘Karate Kid’ or whatever, and it’s so not like that. It’s life-changing for people.”
In addition to the Citi Field program, which she took over this year, Messina does free seminars and safety trainings in local schools and religious institutions, she said.
She is also building a nonprofit, Swerve Inc., that will help disadvantaged kids set a new course for their lives.
Forming deep relationships with students is a priority for Messina, she said — and they have had lasting impacts.
She ended up adopting one student she first met as a child in a youth home, and he went from almost dropping out of high school to becoming the student body president at Marist College, she said.
Another student who is about to graduate from Adelphi University is a teacher at Taecole and will eventually become part-owner, Messina said. And a third went to Miami after college to help underprivileged kids there, saying Messina influenced him to do so, she said.
“For me to think personally, if I had had what we provide for these kids then [when I was younger], I would have made so many better decisions in different terms,” Messina said.
Messina’s dedication to her students is a big reason Danielle Sleeper of Mineola believes in her work.
Sleeper’s 9-year-old son, Jayden, has been taking classes with Messina since age 3, and her 7-year-old daughter, Kyla, has been practicing with her since age 4, Sleeper said.
Even though they’re both shy, the kids get focused when practicing in front of big crowds, such as on the Citi Field stage this week, Sleeper said.
Both kids have grown more confident and respectful since starting Messina’s taekwondo classes, Sleeper said. Jayden went from a “rambunctious little boy” to a black-belt practitioner who now teaches 4-year-olds, Sleeper said.
“She’s really inspiring,” Sleeper said. “To listen to her speak and to listen to her story and to listen to where she came from, and then to watch her with these kids, she really has a special connection with all of them.”