Donation to help expand programming

Thunder Bay, Ont. — In recognition of the work the Underground Gym does with children, Matawa First Nation has given them $20,000 for programming, surprising gym owner Peter Panetta.

“Wow, that’s huge,” Panetta said. “It’s a lot of money — and they know that now I’m going to be able to expand my programming.”

Plans to reconstruct the second floor of the Victoria Avenue building continue to progress with various trade unions on board.

“They really want this to happen because it’s the perfect union,” he said. “It is the perfect collaboration of having the children, the youth, the young adults, learning their trade. Together we can make this work.”

Panetta’s program plan includes the addition of a classroom for higher education and upgrading as well as on-site training for the trades.

“I want to introduce the different trades for them to choose one that they like. When they find their niche, I’ll tell them what they need to qualify to apprentice,” he said.

“One thing they will need is their Grade 12 — and most of my youth do not have Grade 12 — so we will have that readily accessible to them.”

Panetta says he wants to keep the trade unions involved in collaboration with the project to make this become “a reality.”

“I also want to see if the unions can create a pre-apprenticeship program where the youth are getting their education, as well as getting some experience,” he said. “I want to make it as easy as possible without any stumbling blocks or any hoops that they have to jump through to be able to get into whatever trade or apprenticeship that they choose to do. It’s about giving them an easy avenue to a career.”

Along the way, Panetta has undergone setbacks such as a break and enter at the gym a few months ago. The former gym located on Simpson Street, that was destroyed by fire, was the scene of numerous break-ins and vandalism. Panetta says he almost expected it at his new site.

Panetta says everyone who comes into the building will walk past his office where he had kept valuable items. He says he was surprised that whoever broke in, knew what they were looking for and where to look, and they didn’t trash the place.

“There’s probably $2,000 to $3,000 worth of stuff that was taken including jars of change that I would distribute to the kids who needed bus fare,” he said. “They took tools and they took laptops that were donated, anything they could sell. The other thing is they knew that there was video surveillance in the place and they took the hard drive that recorded the video of them coming in. They knew what they were doing.”

Meanwhile, the Underground Gym is celebrating its 24th anniversary. Panetta began the project in the basement of The Dew Drop Inn where he taught boxing to young people.

He progressed to Simpson Street where he expanded into music, arts and cultural activities including food preparation and boxing.

Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal