SheGives members gathered in Kendall Square in Cambridge on Monday to participate in a workout and to listen to Jon Feinman, Founder and Executive Director of InnerCity Weightlifting (ICW), discuss his organization and the positive changes it is making in Boston. The Kendall Square ICW is a small gym tucked into a corner of the Square, but already it has made a big impact. Its goal is to keep at-risk youth off the streets and out of jails, while giving them the opportunity to develop skills and connections for future employment.
After some light stretching and strength training exercises, Feinman began the talk with an alarming statistic: less than 1% of Boston’s youth are responsible for 70% of the gun violence in the Boston area. He added that cities with the highest crime rates tend to be the ones that have the highest levels of segregation. The young people his organization attracts often come from households that have incomes of less than $10,000 a year, and they struggle daily with the poverty and violence in their communities. These are the youths who are “pushed to the outside, where there is no opportunity,” Feinman said.
Feinman, who grew up in a middle class home in Amherst, sought to address these issues by opening InnerCity Weightlifting in 2010. ICW attracts at-risk youth to the gym by first gaining their trust, “not the other way around,” Feinman said. The organization then helps them to make positive changes and learn valuable personal training skills, all while providing them with financial and educational resources and a place where, Feinman says, “they don’t have to look over their shoulders.” These are all vital parts of ICW’s Student Apprenticeship Program, in which students gain job experience and have the opportunity to earn a certification with the National Academy of Sports Medicine. They can then get hired at ICW, or they can apply their personal training skills to a position at another facility.
Feinman also created ICW to create personal and professional connections between different members of the community; students can then use these networks at ICW for career advancement. The relationships formed also give students confidence and a sense of hope for the future. Mac, a trainer at the Kendall Square location, described ICW as “like a big brother,” that gave him the “guidance and structure” that he needed to get his life on track. Eric, another trainer at the Kendall Square location, was grateful to ICW’s donors and supporters. “I’m making a decent living because of all of your support,” he said.
Thanks to the generosity of donors, InnerCity Weightlifting now operates in two facilities–the Kendall Square location opened in May and the other is in Dorchester. ICW currently has 156 students, but Feinman plans to expand in 2016: “What’s exciting about 2016,” Feinman said, “is that we’re trying to double our staff, and increase the number of students and clients we serve.” It recently met a $50,000 matching goal, which was matched by the Devonshire Foundation. In addition to expanding the number of personnel and students, Feinman hopes to use the new funds to open two new sites in the Boston area, specifically in areas near the boundaries between the wealthy and the at-risk.
Feinman’s ambitions, however, are grander than the city of Boston. Eric and Mac both mentioned another cornerstone of Feinman’s philosophy: “breaking down barriers.” By connecting different members of the Boston community, Feinman hopes to foster connections that will help create a “national shift in perception.” The long-term goal is to expand into other cities by 2019; Chicago, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles are prime targets due to their high levels of segregation. His method is very simple, Feinman said: “For all the complicated solutions, the one that seems to work the best…is understanding. When people know each other…everything looks different. That’s ultimately what we do.”
Check out even more photos from the evening by scrolling through the gallery below.