(Underground Gym website)

A Thunder Bay-based charity that provides recreation and other aid programs for at-risk youth could be coming soon to one of Winnipeg’s hardest areas.

The Underground Gym and Youth Centre is asking the city for “$83,200.00 to assist with operating costs associated with community development and recreation programs to serve the needs of youths at risk at a gym and youth centre which the Centre wishes to establish in Winnipeg.”

(Google maps)

The centre would be located at 431-435 Selkirk Avenue. In the picture, it looks as if it would be the buildings right next to the food mart.

Guided by the motto: “Once a member, always a member,” the organizers say they provide “free access to multiple activities for youth in need” ages 4-17. The Ontario location is co-ed.

Unlike the incoming multi-million dollar Youth for Christ centre that is set to open at Main and Higgins, The organizers don’t appear to have an ideological or religious bent.

(Letter to city from Peter Panetta)

With a track record stretching back to 1999 in Thunder Bay, the director, Peter Panetta says they’ve had great success keeping kids from “the wrong path.” (see attached letter).

All I can say is this: if the organization checks out, it’s another drip in the “kitchen sink” philosophy for crime prevention a famous local blogger has written about much more eloquently than I could.

The city will make an initial decision on whether to give the group its ask on Nov. 23.

Why aren’t more local agencies trying to do this in this area? I’d imagine it would be more the merrier.

I’ve put a message in to speak with Panetta. We’ll see if he calls back.

[UPDATE] He did call back. Seemed like a fairly no-nonsense, straight shooting guy:

Panetta tells me he’s a boxing coach who works for Canada Post full time in Thunder Bay. The Winnipeg facility will be run by his adult kids, he says.

It’s non-denominational and non-profit, he said.

“I’ve never taken a penny for what I’m doing,” Panetta said.

Interesting how in this article he talks about the financial challenges he faces in Ontario — and how Winnipeg’s problems are migrating there.

Tells me his relationship with city hall in TB has had its “ups and downs,” which got sorted out when he found private funding.

Interestingly, he tells me, the genesis of the idea for the Winnipeg gym stemmed from Winnipeg kids filtering into the centre in TB who would talk about the area.

I asked him if he had much experience or knowledge about the Selkirk Avenue area, and he admitted the entrenched gang problems in the North End have been raised with him.

“The gangs … it will be a challenge, do doubt — but once the concept takes hold, it should be OK.”

Says the TB centre is in a rougher area but admits its not the same as what he’s heard about the 204.

“We’re not as hard core as Winnipeg,” he said.

He’s coming to Winnipeg on Monday to prepare for the Tuesday meeting. Says he’s spoken “indirectly” to Sam Katz about the proposal. Katz seemed “all for it,” he said, but says he’s committed to following proper process to try and get the grant.

Simpleton math (I have no head for numbers)

Let’s say for the sake of argument that the city approves the gym’s $83,200 and sets up shop in the North End and begins working with kids. How much of a savings would that represent to the criminal justice system just in terms of wages paid to police, prosecutors etc?

Assuming the gym keeps 25 kids from committing a crime for which they’re arrested and not diverted away from the system, ultimately convicted and given a probation order:

(Yes, I know. I'm no economist or statistician. Just a dumb reporter)

Here’s what I come up with (in graph).

Just preventing 25 kids from committing 1 mildly serious crime — say it’s a theft under charge or whatever — “saves” $27,150.

If it’s 100 kids? More than $108,000.

Now, I realize this is simplistic because in reality the savings aren’t seen in real dollars, but it’s worth considering.


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