A weight off your shoulders: Chicago strength coach’s remarkable act of charity helps South Side school lift heavy burden

 CHICAGO — It’s been said that the heart is the strongest muscle. So, what happens when a heart beats inside of a strength coach?   

Cam Paulson coaches inside of Strive Village, where hard wor​k is more than a slogan on a wall, it’s a life philosophy. “There’s no success without sacrifice.”

 “You’ve got to love hard work, because that’s what it takes,” he said. “So that’s my mission.”

The 33-year-old strength coach is equal parts demanding and devoted, charismatic and candid.

The former college football strength coach leads clients through grueling workouts. Some of the city’s most successful people are drawn to the challenge. His clients include Chicago’s top names in business, politics, sports, and media.   

Paulson tapped into that network to start the non-profit, It Takes a Village Chicago.

 “This isn’t an organization where we sit on a board and waste time,” he said. We’re trying to be a force for good. I want to help as many people as I can – today!”

The organization has the goal of building new weight rooms in schools that otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford them.

The most recent was a pandemic project; a state-of-the-art $110,000 dollar gym at Crane High School on Chicago’s Near West Side. It replaced a decades old fitness center.

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And one recent afternoon, Paulson volunteered to train the basketball team.

So far, Coach Cam’s charity has built seven weight rooms; Julian, Chicago Jesuit, Corliss, The West Side Boys and Girls Club and Curie High School.   

But the first one was at a small Catholic school in Back of the Yards, a rough South Side neighborhood behind the old union stockyards where nearly a third of the people live below the poverty line and gang violence is a constant concern.  

 “You can’t really go outside and be 100 percent safe,” 8th grader Christopher Bahena said.  

But San Miguel School has become a safe haven.

All of San Miguel’s 90 students, 6th, 7th and 8th graders, are Hispanic. Many are from working class families who felt the pain of the pandemic in lost jobs. And lost the ability to pay the school’s $1000 tuition.

Jeff Smart is the school’s executive director.  

 “It becomes very dire,” he said. “We have a policy that every kid can come, every kid will be able to stay here regardless of the ability to pay.”

Staring at a $35,000 gap for this year, Smart said a prayer and sent a plea asking donors to help keep the school afloat.   

 “I actually hit send on that email that went out and literally looked at my phone, and it was Cam calling,” he said.   

“I picked my phone up, ‘Hey Jeff, I got 30 grand left in the charity account, it’s yours but let’s get this going. Let’s use this as a kindling to get this going. Let’s match this at least.’” 

And just like that, the $30,000 budget gap was gone  

 “Since you cared, there’s 90 students here in person getting the better education,” Christopher said.  

Coach Cam is showing the city that maybe this heart that pumps iron is actually a heart of gold.   

Paulson is looking for the next school or community center to donate a weight room. If you’re interested, log on to his website.

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