Guest post by Lizzie Majewski, Director of Operations at Teens Run DC
This is the fourth post in a new blog series on “Building A Safer, Stronger DC,” featuring stories from grantees of the City Fund Safer, Stronger DC portfolio. View the full series here.
Who are we? Teens Run DC!
What do we do? We Run This City! – Saturday practice cheer
We are all seeking OUR PEOPLE, our TRIBE, our COMMUNITY. Whatever you call it, we strive for this connection to others in the groups that we form. We seek out community to find support, love, and a sense of security. A community is not made up of one type of person, but it is often colorful and inclusive. Teens Run DC, which I have had the pleasure of being a part of for over two years as a staff member and volunteer, is the type of community that you want to talk about, and return to time and time again. It is the community that makes you feel full and joyful because the people are so great. Teens Run DC, a nonprofit serving youth through mentoring and running programs, is composed of a vibrant community of youth, parents, teachers, volunteers, mentors, and staff. Now in its ninth year, it is a community that has made its impact on Washington D.C. and continues to offer a place for those looking for family, a sense of home and security, and lasting friendship.
Community for Teens Run DC foremost starts with the creation of a healthy and safe space for our youth. Teens Run DC ultimately promotes the physical, social, and emotional well-being of youth through two critical avenues: mentoring and distance running. At our seven partner schools throughout the District, Teens Run DC offers in school and out- of -school practices and events. In their in school sessions, our trained Coaches/Mentors teach kids crucial SEL (social-emotional learning) topics that will help them thrive amongst their peers and in their greater community. Youth learn to communicate and to lead, and to set goals for their day and for their future. Example topics from sessions include communication and leadership, healthy eating and nutrition, running form and safety, and stress management.
Youth often come to Teens Run DC looking to escape the chaos, stress, or even bullying they may experience in the lunch room or at recess, and most importantly they come to feel connected to the other members of Teens Run DC, as well as their Coach. Many of these youth then come back for after-school practices, where topics from the classroom are built upon during physical activity. By teaching kids to set goals and train for races, we hope to foster their increased connectedness to others, self-efficacy, and physical and academic performance. Furthermore, we hope that our Coaches have instilled transferable skills onto youth to help them navigate an increasingly violent and divided society. The youth we serve grapple with the trauma of exposure to community violence. Schools in struggling neighborhoods need additional support to address problematic behaviors and attitudes that impact social emotional well-being, ultimately leading to high rates of academic failure. Truancy, out-of-school suspensions, and low graduation rates indicate inadequate support to address complex student needs; and are risk factors for cyclical violence and poverty, which disproportionately impact individuals of color throughout DC. By placing strong Coaches and Mentors at school sites, we offer non-judgmental leaders for students who may just need another listener. Coaches are available to students both in and out of the classroom.
Alee Wade, the Associate Program Manager and coach for the Saturday Mentoring program, describes her view of how the program has impacted youth. She states:
“We create a safe, welcoming space for youth to connect with adults and other youth, fostering personal growth. Disconnected youth not only become engrained in our community but also find their voice and learn more about themselves. For example, the first time I met one of our students Michael*, he was quiet and reserved. As time progressed, he became more comfortable with our community and began to open up to me and share information about his life. He eventually would not leave practice without saying goodbye and giving me a hug. It was impactful knowing I played a role in this student’s personal growth!"
Outside of its school program, Teens Run DC holds a Saturday Mentoring Program weekly at Yard’s Park where youth are paired with individual mentors to both run with and interact with outside of practice time. John*, a regular at our practices, has found his community through this aspect of Teens Run DC’s programming. It all started when Jen Edmond, former Director of Programs, found John running near Yard’s Park one weekend over a year ago. She invited him to join Teens Run at our weekly Saturday practices. John started showing up, and he kept coming back. Fast forward one year later, and John has found his voice and his groove at Teens Run DC. He has taken almost five minutes off of his 5k time (This is a very BIG DEAL), and he rarely misses a Saturday practice or race. He usually crosses the finish line displaying one of his signature dance moves, and he has even been noticed and congratulated by the top finishers of Park Runs, which are informal 5ks Teens Run DC participates in at Anacostia Park once per month. In addition to his physical growth, we can tell that John has found a community at Teens Run DC and truly enjoys his time with us.
Executive Director Steve Hocker notes of his experience, “The work our Team does with Teens Run DC is life changing for us as individuals, because of the impact we have on the lives of the youth we serve in DC.” Steve and his wife Linda never miss Saturday practice, and Steve has been a crucial mentor to John on his journey.
Those who are seeking community can come to Teens Run DC, and they will be welcomed. Too often we tell people what we are looking for and forget to accept people as they are. If you are ever in Yard’s Park on a Saturday from September-May, think about joining us. Teens Run DC is open to all: old and young; runners and walkers; introverts and extroverts; and locals and travelers. You do not have to be a teen to join. Volunteers come to DC from all over the country, looking for a place where they can make an impact in their community. Youth come from various schools to find friends and supportive, caring adults. We strive to create a safe community, where kids can escape violence and bullying and work through the issues they may be facing at school or at home. Our hope is that youth will become invested in our community and then their own community, creating positive impact in the larger world.
*Name has been changed