Innercity Weight Lifting, a diversion program currently serving 207 Boston youth, will open a training center in South Boston in approximately three weeks, and some residents are wary of the program, which trains at-risk youth, particularly those with a violent past and gang affiliations, in Olympic Lifting.
Bob Ferrara, a candidate vying for City Councilor Bill Linehan’s seat, has drawn connections between the program and recently announced plans to bring the Boston Middle School Academy, a program for Boston Public School students who have repeatedly violated the code of conduct, to the Gavin School building.
In a neighborhood flier, he wrote that Innercity Weight Lifting “is a diversion program for youth who are involved in gangs and violence," and added, "I am not aware that South Boston has a gun or gang issue that needs to be addressed.”
But John Feinman, the founder and executive director of Innercity, says the program’s South Boston location will be focused around professional development, and will allow the organization to more effectively outreach to South Boston’s troubled youth.
“As physical trainers, these kids can make $50 -100 per hour. Whether it’s youth from South Boston youth with a drug addiction problem or youth from elsewhere in the city who are dealing with some kind of gang or violence issue, it’s a great diversion tactic,” he said.
“These kids aren’t sociopaths, they’re making some logical decisions based on the opportunities they’ve been presented with.”
The program started in January 2010, and runs out of seven gyms, community centers, YMCAs and Boys and Girls Clubs, but the South Boston location on B Street will be the first owned and operated by Innercity. Most participants will continue training at their local Innercity locations, which include Roxbury, Mattapan, East Boston and Dorchester.
The South Boston center will focus on job training, helping students with professional advancement as physical trainers, and with tutoring help for the GED. It will also offer a gym open to the public, with trainers who will donate 20 percent of what they make back to the non-profit. Feinman said that public outreach was part of the motivation for the South Boston location, since the site’s proximity to 93, the Broadway MBTA stop and the South End will draw customers who will help fund the nonprofit program.
Ferrara said he has spoken to Feinman about the program. “I’ve still got a lot of questions,” said Ferrara, who is helping set up a community meeting with Feinman next week.
“Since we provide door-to-door transportation for our youth and the building is in an industrial area, we didn’t really see the issue right away,” Feinman said.” But we’ll do whatever it takes to collaborate with residents and local businesses to make sure this is win-win for everyone.”
E-mail Cara Bayles at firstname.lastname@example.org.