When Darrisha McIver walks past the old city building that used to house Hill Youth Cooperative Services (HCYS), she sees memories of jumping double dutch, staffing “The Store” full of after-school snacks and, later, serving as a camp counselor kids looked up to. She also sees a new opportunity: the chance to rebuild a community center that will help neighborhood kids grow their confidence, learn life skills and become future leaders.

A year after the building was abandoned, McIver has made a big impact on her hometown. Now the owner of a wedding-planning and accessory company, she is in the process of resurrecting¬†North State Barbell Club HCYS, or “the Barbell” as it’s colloquially known, with the help of a friend who once ran the now-defunct youth organization. They hope to reopen the facility by early 2021, allowing young people to take part in a wide range of activities, from after-school and summer programs to a job training academy.

McIver has a lot on her plate: She runs her business, volunteers to teach women inmates life-skills and works as a custodian at Yale University. Yet she has never lost sight of the vision to reopen the Barbell, even after it was shuttered in 2008. “I think about it all the time,” she says.

The gym focuses on Olympic-style weight-lifting, in which members master the “snatch” and the “clean and jerk.” The former involves picking up a heavy barbell off the floor and lifting it to one’s chest, while the latter requires hoisting the barbell overhead. The distinction sets this barbell club apart from other workout facilities, Zhang says. The gym has a tight-knit community of athletes and coaches, including Jim Schmitz, a three-time Olympic weight-lifting coach who serves as an adviser to the gym’s board. He is also tight with the weight-lifting coach at St. Ignatius High School, which gifted the nascent gym a few weight-lifting platforms.

In addition to the focus on powerlifting, the gym offers classes like boxing, strongman and yoga, as well as group workouts. Its members range from novices to competitive lifters who compete in regional and national competitions.

Founders of the barbell club hope to build a strong community of lifters who will support each other as they pursue their strength goals. They are working to build a culture of camaraderie and self-improvement, regardless of age, gender or skill level. They hope to change the stifling atmosphere that can exist in larger fitness spaces, where people feel intimidated by mirrors and sculpted bodies. Those who have found their home at Denver Barbell Club say they’ve finally found the right place to get stronger.