Using Flight Training To Help At Risk Youth

Jon Feinman, 28, is on mission to improve the lives of at risk youth in Greater Boston. Feinman a former nationally ranked weightlifter has found a way to take something he is passionate about and leverage it to change the future for teenagers in Boston.

His experiences with some of the deadliest gangs in the world provide learning’s that are applicable to aviation and the impact we as an industry are trying to have on the youth in our
society.

WHAT DOES FEINMAN DO?

Feinman, and his nonprofit organization InnerCity Weightlifting, is on a mission to reduce violence and promote professional, personal and academic achievement among urban youth. His organization works with teens from some of the most dangerous gangs in greater Boston, including MS-13s, Bloods and Latin Kings. Feinman and his team of trainers focus on teaching kids between the ages of 12 to 22 the basics of Olympic lifting.

WHY START A GYM?

According to a Boston Globe Interview, “I did Athletes in Service to America. Through that I worked with East Boston kids in MS-13 – on of the world’s deadliest gangs. I was trying to get them involved in after-school projects. A week later they would be back on the streets…I saw what these kids were going through and it didn’t feel right.”

SO HOW IS WEIGHTLIFTING DIFFERENT FROM OTHER AFTER-SCHOOL PROGRAMS?

According to Jon, with the kids in his program, violence tends to be a self-esteem issue. When they start lifting more weight, their self-esteem goes up and gives them the confidence to say no to abuse. No longer do they feel the need to fight to prove themselves.

HOW DO YOU KNOW YOU ARE HAVING AN IMPACT ON THESE KIDS?

"One day I had two Bloods, one former MS-13 and one former 18th Street gang member all working out together. A lot of them had prior history. I was on high alert. But they just came in, lifted and started talking by the end of the workout." Many of Feinman’s students come all the way through his program and become certified trainers that now work at InnerCity, training the next generation of youth.

WHAT HAS MADE INNERCITY SUCCESSFUL?

When I spoke with Jon, he told me two things. It is about the positive community he has created inside the walls of his gym, and the devoted staff he has committed to his students. Without those two pieces, InnerCity would not have nearly the impact it does. Jon hopes to take the success he has had in Boston and replicate it in other cities across the country. “We want to grow this to another City Year or Big Brothers Big Sisters. We’ll grow until crime rates drop, graduation rates are up and students are going to college.”

SO WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH AVIATION?

I look at the example of Feinman and the success he has had creating a true socially impactful business and ask, why can’t we do this with aviation? Can’t flight training be another tool or mechanism to achieve similar goals? Take the high school graduation rate in urban areas for example. Based on a study reported by the New York Times, graduation rates in the 50 largest cities in the U.S. is only 53%. Who is to say, aviation can’t help impact that rate by bringing aviation to the cities?

One thought is to take aviation simulation into the school systems or urban centers and provide students with and opportunity to learn how to fly through a full program offering. Through the process of simulator training, students would learn a new set of skills they may have never been exposed to before due to the environment they grow up in. Students would become more confident about themselves and their ability to be successful, whether that be in school or in life. A program focused on the inner city could also expose a range of kids to aviation who have never had the opportunity before. It could prove to be not only a program with a positive social impact but also a step towards introducing a new market to the world of aviation.