Home ยป 'He inspires me': Akron man works tirelessly to rehab house for troubled youth – Akron Beacon Journal

'He inspires me': Akron man works tirelessly to rehab house for troubled youth – Akron Beacon Journal

by Arifa Rana

An Akron man worked around the clock on a recent weekend on his project to rehab a house into a residential facility for troubled youth.
By Monday morning, Geno Toney was so exhausted that he fell asleep on one of the brand-new beds, using the plastic on the mattress as his blanket.
He slept a few hours, woke up and got back to work.
“I’m motivated,” said Toney, 40. “I really want to put this together for the kids in the community and offer them something good.”
The enthusiastic Toney isn’t as far along in his project as he’d like. He originally hoped to have his facility open by November, but progress was delayed by the pandemic, supply and money obstacles and a few new wrinkles in Toney’s personal life.
More: Change Agents: Akron’s Geno Toney uses boxing gym to turn life around, help troubled youth
Still, Toney’s supporters believe he’ll follow through with his vision of opening a juvenile rehab center that will offer an alternative to jail for troubled kids, along with services to try to steer them onto the right path.
“He’s one of the most persistent and consistent individuals I know,” said Summit County Common Pleas Judge Amy Corrigall Jones, who once spared Toney from returning to prison and now uses him as a mentor in two of her court programs.
“He inspires me — in so many ways,” Jones added.
After Jones allowed Toney to continue on probation in 2012 instead of going back to prison for a drug charge, he set out to begin his plan to help youths in the Akron area. He started by opening a boxing gym where kids can learn the sport, as well as get help with schoolwork.
Toney opened the Dream Team Boxing & Learning Center in Akron’s Kenmore neighborhood. He offered group and individual boxing lessons to kids 5 to 18, as well as after-school programming, tutoring and mentoring.
His young charges have won regional, state and national boxing titles.
In January, Toney started on his next project. He bought a seven-bedroom house on Roselawn Avenue near East Exchange Street in Akron.
Toney, with help from his good friend Wally Smith, who is a contractor, and other volunteers began tearing down and putting up new walls and redoing plumbing and wiring.
Toney hopes to make this his first Positive Energy Always Corrects Errors (PEACE) home. The rehab center will offer an alternative to jail for youths ages 12 to 17. The program will provide treatment for substance abuse and mental health issues for 30 to 90 days. Participants also will take classes on topics like building credit, finding a job and planning for the future.
Toney recently provided a tour to show the progress he’s made on renovating the house.
He’s made the most progress on the second floor, where a dorm for younger youths and a bathroom are mostly done.
The dorm is freshly painted gray, with gray and brown wood floors, and black beds and dressers. Nightstands will be added where each youth will have a 15-inch television that will be used as a privilege or punishment. The room has new drywall, insulation, wiring and smoke detectors.
“Everything in here is brand new,” Toney said.
He planned later that day to add blinds to the new windows.
“We’ve still got a ways to go, but we’re making progress,” he said.
In a bathroom near the dorm, Toney had installed a large double sink, two toilets and two shower stalls. He still needed to add doors for the showers and toilets, as well as mirrors and a light bar above the sink.
A second dorm for older teens was packed with boxes of furniture that needed to be put together.
In the attic, Toney had begun installing new flooring and was still working on the drywall in a space that will be used for educational programs and as a group hangout area.
On the first floor, Toney had painted one of the walls in the living area but the rest of the space, including a staff office, kitchen and dining area, hadn’t yet been touched. Paint cans, supplies and boxes of furniture and flooring were stacked throughout this area.
Toney said several obstacles stood in the way of his project.
He is funding the project himself, with donations from people in the community, but ran low on funds several times. The higher price of supplies during the pandemic exasperated his financial constraints.
When Toney needs something for his project, he asks for help. For example, if he needs support for two doors, he said, he’ll make a video and put it on social media, asking for donations. When he gets the funds, he buys the doors, then gives the receipt to the donor.
“A lot of people believe in me,” he said. “I did not pay for all of this myself. This is created by a village.”
Smith, Toney’s partner in the project, hasn’t been able to help as much lately because he’s been taking care of a good friend who fell and broke his hip. Toney said he’s been doing his best to forge ahead without his skilled friend.
“Wally does everything,” Toney said. “Without Wally, there is no me. Wally is my heart.”
Toney, a single dad with four kids, also recently was granted custody of his 5-month-old niece, who had been in foster homes since she was born. He took some time off the project to connect with her.
“She’s doing great,” he said. “She’s happy. She smiles all the time.”
The kids Toney works with at his gym have a term to describe his enthusiasm: Geno Sauce.
Toney has an abundance of this fervor and plans to channel it toward finishing his first PEACE home and then expanding beyond that.
He now hopes to have the home ready to open by June or July.
Richard Gibson, who will serve as the director of administration, is helping with securing the required accreditation from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. He’s also reaching out to local agencies and businesses to see if they’d like to partner with PEACE Homes.
Gibson, a caseworker for a local behavioral health agency, said he’s humbled to be part of the project, especially because he’s a recent Kent State University graduate.
“I just have passion to give back to the city,” said Gibson, who grew up in Akron.
Toney has reached out to Eugene Wilson, his father who serving a life sentence in federal prison, for help with his project. Wilson started a program called “Man, Stop” that he teaches to inmates in prison. Wilson adapted the program for youths so Toney can use it in his facility.
After the first rehab center opens, Toney would like to open more juvenile facilities.
Toney also eventually hopes to buy land and open a campus with residential housing for juveniles, like the youth equivalent of the Interval Brotherhood Home that offers residential treatment to adults on sprawling property in Coventry Township. He’d like the campus to have three to four housing units, serve 30 to 40 kids, and open by 2025, with all the services the youths need right there.
To do this, Toney said, he’ll need an investor who believes in him. He’d like the facility to be in the Akron area, though he’s not limiting his vision geographically.
“I want to do it here,” he said. “The earth is my turf. I don’t care where it is.”
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at swarsmith@thebeaconjournal.com, 330-996-3705 and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj.
To make a donation to PEACE Homes, use $DTBLC on the Cash app or through Zelle.
To volunteer or donate goods, contact Geno Toney at genotoney7@gmail.com or 330-634-6665. 
To learn more, visit https://www.peacehomes.org.
The Beacon Journal is highlighting emerging leaders from newer generations who are making a difference in Summit County neighborhoods, businesses, schools and organizations. Do you know a Change Agent we should feature? Tell us about that person at bjnews@thebeaconjournal.com. Please include “Change Agents” in the subject line and be sure to share contact information for the individual.

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