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Director of planned S. Boston gym works to allay neighborhood concerns

Posted by Patrick Rosso  August 30, 2011 01:52 PM

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In November 2009 ,Jon Feinman founded InnerCity Weightlifting to give troubled youths an outlet. After working out of other gyms, Feinman and his partners decide to open their own location in South Boston.

Some neighbors of the proposed Southie gym fear it could become a haven for gang members, but and Feinman said today that he wants to work with the community to allay those concerns.

In an interview, Feinman spoke of his passion for athletics and working with young people. His nonprofit has signed a three-year lease for a 3,000-square-foot space on B Street.

“Weightlifting is just our hook to build a support network around our students. It caters to students who tend to be the most difficult ones to reach,” he said.

Born in Amherst, Feinman moved to Boston five years ago and now resides in Cambridge. InnerCity Weightlifting, the group he founded aims to not only city youths a chance to work out, but also a support system to help them make positive changes in their lives.

Feinman explained that the students may have problems and may have made mistakes, but he believes that his organization can do something to change that and guide these youths into more positive life choices.

“They’re kids,'' he said during the interview. "When people get to know them, people start to open their eyes to what these kids are going through and see that these kids can overcome these barriers. They just need someone to help them along.”

InnerCity Weightlifting has other gyms around Boston, but the organization doesn’t have a central location, something Feinman hopes the South Boston gym could be for the group.

But many in South Boston have raised objections to the program opening up in their neighborhood.

Concerns range from bringing gang members from outside South Boston into the area, to letting them loose on the streets of South Boston after they are done working out. Other residents have complained that the neighborhood was not sufficiently informed of his plans, a shortcoming for which Feinman has apologized.

Many have said that the gym is not a good fit for the neighborhood. Feinman denies these claims and said that although his students’ pasts may not be pretty, they are working to change their futures.

“Our students are still just kids,'' he said. "They are not anyone people should be afraid of. … They could take the MBTA, but if the neighborhood feels safer having us drive them and drop them off door-to-door, then that’s something we are willing to do.”

Feinman also pointed out that the program is more than just weightlifting.

“We have three students engaged with GED programs; we have two kids back in touch with Boston Public Schools; and we have set up job interviews for several students. ... Weightlifting allows us to break down to a common denominator, which allows us to build relationships with our students.”

But with all the opposition one would wonder why Feinman keeps pushing for a gym in South Boston. Along with the fact that he has a signed lease and has invested funds in the building, Feinman believes that the location is a good centering point for the program.

The planned Aug. 13 opening date was pushed back while Feinman ponders his next move. He currently needs an occupancy permit to open the facility. He also mentioned that before the gym opens he would "like to find common ground."

“In terms of will we leave? We are looking and trying to figure out what the right move is for both the organization, the students, and the community…We are in a situation where we are somewhat locked into it, and we want to figure out if there is a way to compromise.”

But one question Feinman has been asked throughout this process is what his program will do for South Boston. Why would neighbors take this risk and not see it pay back their community?

“This training center is going to be open to South Boston youths,'' he said. "We already have several youths from the housing developments in South Boston who come to our program. Students want us to be here and our students are here,”

He said his organization really wants to work with the community, whether it’s working with the community we can directly support, whether it’s substance abuse, or young victims of domestic abuse,” he added.

Feinman also said that although the gym is open to all and will be working with kids from outside the neighborhood, the majority of the kids in the South Boston facility would be from there.

Before Feinman can continue to move forward, he must gain the confidence of residents. Although he has a long road ahead of him, he remains confident that the people of South Boston will see his organization as a positive for the neighborhood.

“Although it might not seem like it right now, we really are listening. We are doing everything we possibly can. We still haven’t opened yet, but we are still engaging a lot of young people from South Boston and there is a lot of interest from these young people. We really do believe that we are an organization that can positively influence this community as well the entire city.”

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