By TOM GODFREY
Former boxer, media personality and motivational speaker, Chuck “Spider” Jones, says he’s seen many success stories in three years of working with at-risk youth in the Chalkfarm area.
Up to 70 kids daily now attend an after-school Spider’s Web Youth Empowerment Centre at 160 Chalkfarm Dr., in North York, to learn and have fun.
“The program has been a big success,” Jones told Share. “We are trying to reach kids before they are seduced by gangs and drugs.”
Jones, with the help of others, created the drop-in centre in 2011 to help keep area youth busy with activities, rather than have them joining gangs.
The 8- to 16-year-olds are taught life and social skills, public speaking and communication skills. They are provided with mentoring or help with their homework.
The centre also has a kitchen, library, a 12-computer lab, boxing ring and basketball court.
“We are reaching many of the kids in the area,” said Jones. “Many of them are coming back and are doing positive things in the community.”
He said the kids come in voluntarily or are referred by area schools or community workers.
“We have parents bringing in their children all the time,” said Jones. “We want them here before the gangs get to them.”
The initiative began as a pilot program to provide youth in Ward 7 with a safe haven to learn the skills necessary to overcoming adversity through boxing, computer training and mentoring.
“These kids are no longer selling drugs and are graduating from school with social skills and respect for each other,” he said. “Many are staying out of crime and getting an education.”
The centre will be celebrating its third anniversary this month. It is now in the process of being renovated.
Jones, who is the winner of three Golden Glove Championships, said many of the kids in the area don’t have the economic means to succeed in life and end up in criminal activity.
The Windsor native was bullied as a kid, which led to him dropping out of school at an early age.
He lived on the streets, was a gang member and did a stint in jail for robbery.
Jones met and was influenced by his friend, World Heavyweight Champ Muhammad Ali, who helped him to channel his street smarts into boxing.
At 30, he enrolled in broadcast journalism and graduated with honours.
Jones worked with Canadian boxing champ, George Chuvalo, broadcasting boxing matches throughout North America. He also interviewed Tina Turner, James Brown and other high-profile entertainers for radio.
He was inducted into the Canadian Boxing Hall of Fame in 1966, and voted “Boxing Commentator and M.C. of the Year” by the Board of Governors for the World Boxing Federation.
A former host of his own radio show on CFRB, Jones regularly speaks to kids in jail and housing projects about his journey from gang life to broadcaster.
Jones is also an author and lead singer of the blues band, Spider Jones and the Fabulous Web.
Other agencies involved in the centre include Doorsteps Neighbourhood Services, Greenwin Inc., TD and Literature for Life, which provides a program encouraging children to read and participate in learning.
The centre is free and is open five nights a week from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m.