Nothing will break up a community faster than crime and violence. It undermines the economy, family life, public safety, and education. Understandably, many people leave the area in response, and ones who stay behind often feel trapped and despondent.
Austin, a community within Chicago, Illinois, is one such neighborhood. Once one of the biggest areas in the city, Austin's population, economy, and communal feel have all steadily declined due to drugs and gang activity. In fact, Michele Clark is one of the few schools remaining in the area.
With this in mind, the school has endeavored to provide kids with safe refuge among people who feel like family. Principal Charles Anderson is the driving force behind this effort, along with Athletic Director Kevin Simmons. Both act as more than just teachers in the lives of many of the students. The entire staff has created an environment that fosters growth, and athletics is a big part of that effort. However, with a dilapidated weight room, no physical growth would be happening any time soon.
"I'm always looking for ways to encourage them, ways to excite them, ways to show them that they're number one at this school," Principal Anderson says. "For me, I wanted to build up the confidence of the students, make them proud of where they are and feel empowered to advocate for themselves. I also told them, 'I want you to be able to understand how to play hard and work hard.'"
And what better way to show his students than with a brand-new gym?
Michele Clark High's weight room looked about as put together as a spare storage shed, where people just happened to accumulate an assortment of outdated fitness equipment. Matching dumbbells were hard to come by. Many important pieces of equipment were missing, and what remained was barely functional.
Lift Life was drawn to Michele Clark's submission, not only because of the dire condition of their gym, but because of the passion the coach and principal exuded for the kids. They treat them like their own children, making the best with what they have. This school needed a weight room that matched the immense amount of pride felt by the staff and students. It was like a second home for many, and their home deserved more than some old-school equipment straight out of the 80s, crammed into a 10-by-20 space.
After a full year of tear-downs, designing, and assembling, the Lift Life team, along with its partner, Optimum Nutrition, created the gym equivalent of a king's castle, one that could very well rival those in many college strength-training facilities. When the day of the reveal finally came, it was as if the football team had already won the state championship. Gone were the days of makeshift exercises and taking turns on one squat rack. The entire school had something they could use with pride.
"This is going to give them something that's theirs," Simmons said. "Nobody in the city has anything like this. Now you're unique. Now it's what you do with it. Are you going to let it sit dormant, or are you going to take advantage of it?"