Carlos “CJ” Chapparo is from the hard streets of Camden, NJ. Born into a family he describes as “overprotective,” CJ is very grateful for his second home, Steve’s Club, a place where his parents can feel good about him visiting each day after school.
Helping at-risk youth realize their potential through fitness, nutrition and leadership skills is the driving force behind Steve’s PaleoGoods. Each purchase changes lives–15% of the proceeds go directly to Steve’s Club National Program (SCNP) that has 30 local clubs around the country.
“I don’t miss a day,” said CJ. “It’s such a great place to be.”
CJ’s parents moved to Camden from Puerto Rico when they were teenagers. The Chapparos enrolled CJ and his sister in charter schools where there was a greater emphasis on academics and safety.
“My parents drove me everyday when I started,” said CJ. “In the middle of sophomore year, they finally let me jog from our house, about 4 miles away. They didn’t want anything to happen to me.”
When he started at Steve’s Club, CJ was barely 5-foot and 100-lbs. CJ now stands 5-foot, 8-inches tall and is 180-lbs of pure muscle.
“When I got here I was small and skinny,” said CJ. “Steve taught me that I could be better at anything I wanted to do. I know there’s nothing I can’t conquer.”
Before and after class, CJ can be seen practicing gymnastics including back flips, back tucks and handsprings. His favorite lift is the back squat, and he excels at calisthenics.
“Most people think all the kids from Camden want to do drugs and that’s not true,” said CJ. “We want to play sports, work out and do the right thing. It’s just the streets that hold some kids back.”
Every day after school, about 40 young athletes from Camden pour into Steve’s Club, located at the Steve’s PaleoGoods headquarters. They lift weights, jump on boxes, climb ropes and do pull ups–as a way to pull out of the perils of street life. Some of the older teens like CJ even work next door in the warehouse where Steve’s PaleoGoods are made, packed and shipped.
“It feels good being a leader,” said CJ. “I’m not in there just helping myself. I’m helping others.”
CJ was just shy of his fourteenth birthday when he started. He remembers it taking him about two months to get adjusted to the intense regimen. He’s now eighteen, a freshman in college studying Criminal Justice. He is thankful for all that he has received from Steve’s Club.
“I was instantly hooked,” said CJ. “I’ve always been one to like a challenge. I thought I was strong and in shape, but once I started the workout, I was beat.”
Although CJ has found a safe haven at Steve’s Club, he is no stranger to the dangers of his hometown. He has witnessed more violence than he cares to recall, and even witnessed a few of his friends shot and killed.
“I’m numb to it now,” said CJ. “It’s not like I don’t get sad about it, but when violence is a part of your reality, you don’t feel it as much. I’m just glad there’s an alternative for me and my friends.”
Much like this mentor Steve, CJ wants to open a gym someday. He also dreams of serving in the Marine Corps and pursuing a career in Criminal Justice.
“Steve wants the best for us,” said CJ. “He sees our potential and protects us by making sure we train safe and healthy. He wants us off the street. He really does care about us.”
For more information about Steve’s Club, visit stevesclub.org.