In the fall of 2021, Professor Sonia Alleyne, the executive in residence at Suffolk’s Institute for Public Service, invited InnerCity Weightlifting (ICW) to speak to her Social Change class. The Massachusetts nonprofit, with locations in Dorchester and Cambridge, works to reduce youth violence by getting young people—many of whom are at-risk or newly released from prison—into the gym and its job-training programs. ICW pays for them to get certified as personal trainers, and then pairs them with paying gym clients. It also provides mentors to help prepare participants for high school equivalency tests.
In the class, Joe Irizarry, one of the ICW trainers, spoke movingly about his experiences in prison and as a ward of the court, and described how ICW has given him a job, a community, and a way forward as he works to rebuild his life.
Corrin Tangarone and Melissa Martins, both Class of 2024, were so inspired by the stories and ICW’s mission that they offered to volunteer at the organization. Martins, a management major in the Sawyer Business School, and Tangarone, a public relations major in the College of Arts & Sciences, are both minoring in nonprofit management. That meant volunteering for ICW aligned nicely with the goals of the Social Change course, which teaches students to examine the role of business, nonprofits, and the public sector in addressing social problems.
Martins worked with the HR team at ICW, scheduling interviews, writing job descriptions, and creating career emails. Tangarone brought her PR experience to the development team, organizing raffles, finding donors, and learning how to write grants. “It was exciting to do that so early in my career, because grants are such an integral part of the nonprofit world,” she says.
What made a big impression on Martins and Tangarone was that ICW worked with them to tailor the positions and ensure they got the most value they could from the experience.
“ICW really took into account what we wanted to get out of our internships,” says Martins. “They wanted to help figure out what would be best for us and our interests.”
Across all the Public Administration classes she teaches, Professor Alleyne’s goal is to make Suffolk students more empathetic. “When they see a homeless person or an unemployed veteran or someone just out of prison, I want them to have a better understanding of the root causes and their plight. And, as Melissa and Corrin have demonstrated, as future leaders I want them to contribute to the solutions,” she says. Indeed, her nonprofit think-tank has brought in more than 15 Boston-area organizations for class projects since 2019. And those efforts are resonating with students.
“I had a student from one class write to me and share, ‘I’ve always been focused on my grades, but you made us all better people,’” says Alleyne.
Students continued to work with ICW in the spring of 2022 to develop a strategy for growing ICW’s personal training services among employees across different industries.