These kids join gangs to be part of a group and find love and acceptance that they can’t get anywhere else. We show them that they have good things inside them and can follow their better angels.
Jon grew up in Amherst, MA and is a New Englander through and through. He was a star soccer player in high school, received a soccer scholarship to Bryant University in Rhode Island, and later got his MBA from Babson. Along the way, he became a fitness trainer, and that changed his life. It also changed the lives of hundreds of at-risk youth. Jon is the founder and Executive Director of InnerCity Weightlifting, and it's a remarkable group. Either Jon's girlfriend, Jen, who is working on her PhD in Physical Therapy, or one of his weight lifting students, will join him on the cruise.
As Jon is quick to admit, he bounced around a bit before finding his light. Once he found it, however, that light has shined a beacon of hope that has turned around and even saved the lives of the most dangerous and at-risk youth in the Boston area. "Our goal is to provide the support at every level to give our students a chance," says Jon, "and I am humbled every day to see what they can achieve." What that means is that Jon and InnerCity Weightlifting work with the police and social services to identify young people most likely to shoot somebody or be shot themselves. Jon is hip deep in the work that we all say we need to do but few actually take on.
Jon founded InnerCity Weightlifting with $10,000 of his own seed money and then went to work proving his idea had legs. He recruited a team of volunteer coaches and reached out to young people in Boston who were involved in the street, responsible for driving the violence, and then started mentoring them. In this case, mentoring meant bringing them to the gym, teaching them how to stretch and push their bodies, learning about nutrition, and becoming part of something worthwhile. In time, students began to trust Jon and recruit for him. His group brings in financial people, teachers, lawyers, and a broad range of people in the community to make sure the students have an adult to lean on, food and clothing, and most importantly, somebody to care about and respect them. It takes time, lots of one-on-one confidence building, and a big dollop of patience, but it works. Day by day, one student at a time. Says Jon: "Not all of our students make it out, and there's a lot of recidivism. But our program is proving to be one of the most successful in the country, and once our young people are given a chance and shown a better way, most of them take it. We can't just write off certain young people, and this is a program that deals with the hardest situations out there." InnerCity Weightlifting was recently featured on ESPN SportsCenter.