Gym aims to keep at risk youth off the streets


An organization in Lancaster City has a unique way to keep at risk teens off the streets, helping them achieve their goals.

The Benchmark Program is a gym that takes working out, and turns it into therapy.

The gym has between 10 to 15 kids there each night.

Their goal?

To give young men and women a place to come and feel safe, but also to talk.

Freddie Rivera and Hector Pagano come here to punch out their problems.

"I was kind of a reckless juvenile," Rivera said. "I did things that I shouldn’t have been doing, illegal things, stuff like that."

The Benchmark Program changed his life.

"I learned my lesson," Rivera said. "Will helped me realize I can be a better man, that I didn’t have to succumb to my circumstances."

Founder Will Kiefer says what they do here is a form of therapy that's not intimidating.

"They come in and they have something they’re dealing with, but we can talk about it through exercise," Kiefer said. "So we can do a workout, do a break and talk about it and go back to doing the work out. We take away those boundaries that make them feel like oh man this is such a constrained environment."

Before coming to the gym, Hector Pagano, 17, felt alone. Today, he's changed.

"It makes me feel better cause now I actually feel important," Pagano said. "It feels comfortable, you don’t have to be stressed about, 'Oh, nobody likes me here it’s just different," Pagano explained.

Kiefer has been running the program for about four years. He's seen what it can do for these teens.

"I’m proud of the kids," Kiefer said. "I’m proud of watching them grow up. I’ve seen three kids go to college, I’ve seen over 40 kids become employed through us and seen every student who was truant, not going to school, get back into school."

For Rivera, this is more than a place to bench and train. It's home.

"They treated me like I was a member of their family, and it was my first day there, and that’s what really captivated me," Rivera said.

Kiefer tells me more than 200 kids use the space.

Their goal is to open another gym in Lancaster and eventually spread to other cities in the region.

Check out the program on Facebook or on their website.

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