Reading time : 3 minutes
THUNBER BAY – Peter Panetta, a Francophone from Thunder Bay and owner of a center for underprivileged youth, received good news last week: he finally found a building to accommodate the fifty or so young people from his organization. Owner of the Underground Gym, he received nearly $ 90,000 in donations allowing him to replace the old building that had been devastated by a fire last year.
The latter deals in particular with disadvantaged young people or others living in poverty. For him, the pandemic and the confinement will have left traces on his teenage customers.
“We lost five young people in the space of a year. Five ! They committed suicide or they overdosed. They need a center to rest and have a place that is welcome for them, ”he explains.
How are young people behaving now with the idea of having a new center?
“They’re excited, they want me to open the doors now, but I can’t. We still have a lot to do, but I think we will be able to open the doors for the new year. “
The previous place had to close the doors a year ago following collateral damage due to a fire in a neighboring building. This is not the only test that the Underground Gym had to go through. His gymnasium has been vandalized in recent months, he who has seen his equipment disappear.
“We have nothing left, everything we had in the old gym was stolen from us. Now we are slowly starting to have equipment such as boxing gloves, tables or paintings. “
Its new facility is located a few blocks from the old center and has more space with nearly 5,000 square feet spread over two floors.
“It’s much better, we have more more space, it’s much bigger and we have more opportunities. Every day, I have someone who phones me saying, I have a table, I have a guitar, I have chairs, etc. Soon, we will have something in place for young people. “
The latter said he was amazed by the reaction of the community which quickly came to his aid in this project.
“There is even a local business that gave me $ 20,000 to cook. We will be able to feed the young people and teach them how to cook. It’s extraordinary. “
Difficult relationship with the city
Peter Panetta says he had great difficulty in obtaining the City’s collaboration in this project.
“I had targeted two buildings and asked them if I could have a building to continue what I’m doing with the young people, and they said no. They sold one and the other is still empty. “
“Instead of being in prison and costing money, we can help them to continue school and studies and maybe even find a job” – Peter Panetta
For him, these young people desperately need it and he believes that “the City does not understand what is happening with the young people they care for”. Mr. Panetta believes that the role and impact of Underground Gym in the lives of younger people is poorly understood by representatives of Thunder Bay.
“I find it hard to understand that, instead of them being in prison and costing money, we can help them to continue school and studies and maybe even find a job here and contribute to society. But the city doesn’t see that, ”he thinks.
Working with COVID-19
Mr. Panetta would like to open the doors early next year, as he says he has to go get the permits before he can open the doors.
“I’m also going to have to speak with Public Health to see what the restrictions are now that we’re in orange. I don’t know how many people they’re going to let me have. Maybe that will change in a month, when we will open the doors, we will perhaps be in red or in yellow ”, wonders the one who was born in France before moving to Thunder Bay.
He also says he wants to follow the situation closely with COVID-19 and believes that the first moments in the new building will not be like in the old one.
“In the old building, I had between 50 and 60 young people and even 100 sometimes. We won’t be able to do that now and we won’t be able to leave the doors open. We will surely do a day for a group of young people who want to play sports and boxing, and another day for another group who wants to paint or color. That way, they won’t cross each other too much.