Naples

Gym for at-risk kids calls on private sector to step up

Naples dojo trains immigrants, orphans, kids from juvie

Gym for at-risk kids calls on private sector to step up

(By Stefania Fumo) Naples, March 7 - Sometimes a gym is all that stands between young men and a life of crime, and Gianni Maddaloni's judo gym is no exception. Based on the twin values of solidarity and legality, it opened in 2005 in the northern Neapolitan suburb of Scampia, where drug lords battle over turf and kids growing up on the wrong side of the tracks are prey to the temptations of easy money. "I try to convey to them that it's better to have less money and live a free man than to have a lot and end up behind bars for life," Maddaloni explains. Out of this gym came Maddaloni's son Pino, an Olympic gold medalist, and regional judo champion Mamadou, who fled from fighting in Libya. It trains young immigrants and refugees from across the Mediterranean, mafia orphans and relatives of incarcerated criminals, and the kids from Nisida and Airola juvenile prisons. It has sent champions to Beijing, London, Sydney and the European Championships, but now the gym is in dire need of a cash infusion. With a yearly overhead of 67,000 euros, it gets almost no public funding, and survives thanks to private donations from the likes of Gilberto Benetton, of the Benetton clothing dynasty. But that funding has dried up, and its electricity is about to get cut off. "We need 2,000 euros to turn the light back on, but that's nothing - it wouldn't be the first time we trained by torchlight," said Maddaloni. "Right now we owe 21,900 euros, of which half is in interest and taxes. I'm appealing to the hearts of Naples entrepreneurs, including (Napoli FC President Aurelio) De Laurentiis: give us a hand so we can continue to fight for these kids".

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