Underground Gym aims to build skills

THUNDER BAY, ONT. — Underground Gym founder Peter Panetta is moving ahead with the next phase for the centre with the structural development of the building’s second floor.

The area will be used for trade skills training for older teenagers and young adults through partnerships with unions and trades expertise.

All Panetta needs is $250,000.

“It’s almost unrealistic to think that I’m going to get $250,000 — that’s reaching for the stars, as optimistic as I am,” he said. “That just seems too much.”

Panetta successfully purchased the new digs in November 2020, thanks to funding from several donors.

The former Underground Gym location on Simpson Street suffered from structural unsoundness and was eventually destroyed in a major fire.

Panetta reached out to the community and the community came through with financial support to help him purchase and renovate the new Victoria Avenue location. The centre serves as a safe place for youngsters to be while playing, learning, cooking, and making friendships.

Many organizations supplied the gym with exercise and boxing equipment, kitchen staples, pots, pans, dishes, art, craft and school supplies in what Panetta called a “community-built program” for the children. The main floor is completely renovated and outfitted through donor funds.

Newmont Mining Corporation was one of the large donors that originally invested $20,000 toward the purchase of the building. This week they presented Panetta with $5,000 and a promise of another $5,000 in the new year for the development of the trades-training floor.

"I basically have the same amount of square footage as I do on the main floor and there’s a ton of different rooms up there,” Panetta said. “Let’s take woodworking for example, which would need a lot of space. I have three very large rooms and they can bring in their tools and introduce and teach a group of young adults (about carpentry) to see if they like it. If they like it, they can pursue it towards an apprenticeship. If they don’t then they move on. They will have access to all of the trades including plumbing and electrical training.”

Panetta says he is working with many unions and organizations in hopes of recruiting experts and equipment to provide workshops for his interested youth membership in as many trades as possible.

“The cool part about this whole thing is it’s all at the Underground,” he said. This is a space where they’re very comfortable and for many of them, it’s become like their second home. So if (learning opportunities) are available to them here, then it’s much easier for them to get involved. It’s about just going to the next level and being able to set them toward a career.”

Once the program is up and running in a safely renovated space, Panetta says he hopes that when people see that this thing is working, they will be compelled to contribute financially to help jumpstart a new generation of trades people.

The Underground Gym is a registered charitable organization and will issue tax receipts for any financial donations. For more information or to support the trades workshops, email undergroundgym@tbaytel.net or call 807-620-5488 or 807-630-5549.

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