From the Streets to the Gym
CBN’s Caitlin Burke, tells how Inner City Weightlifting founder, Jon Feinman, developed a fruitful opportunity for ex-cons in the Boston area find employment and a network of relationships to help rebuild their lives once out of prison.
Feinman started ICW in 2010. One of the early challenges was figuring out how to reconcile the dream of changing lives through weight-training, with the realities of life on the street.
"Me being the little white guy from Amherst, Massachusetts that I am, I thought that somehow, through weight training, we could get guys into the Olympics, we could get guys college athletic scholarships. And then we realized early on that most of the students we'd been working with had been shot, they all had done significant jail time and they're coming from family incomes of less than $10k per year. The idea that somehow showing up at three to work out together, cool down, study for homework together, when most of our guys ended up being either expelled from school or dropped out for safety reasons. It was ridiculous. It would have actually excluded the population of young people we were trying to work with," Feinman said.
By listening, they discovered ways to improve their program. First, they learned people wanted a true sense of community. Second, many people on the streets lack hope. "For most of our students, their six-month outlook on life was death or jail, so we can't talk about an education or a career if they're not going to be around long enough to benefit from it," Feinman said.
That's where weight training makes a difference. Not only does it offer community, ICW also provides a career-track in personal training. "While it does create an income for our students, most important what it started to do was bridge social capital. Not only was it creating a job, but it was creating this vast network for our students to be a part of, to lean on, to help solve for the challenges that they're facing day to day, and most importantly it was giving people an opportunity to see our students for who they are as people, not a statistic on a piece of paper.”