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Chicago Run x Cook County Juvenile Center: Changing Lives One Race at a Time

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Vanessa M. Buenger is the content strategist at Chicago Ideas. Through The 77 Project, Vanessa has met dozens of solution-makers in the city of Chicago, including the team at Chicago Run. Chicago Run has recently extended their mission to enhance the health and well-being of every child in Chicago with a new program in partnership with the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. This October, Vanessa joined them for the program’s culminating event. Read on for her experience and learn how you can get involved:

When we sought out to tell the stories of our city through The 77 Project, I was immediately taken by the mission of Chicago Run, which is to promote the health and wellness of Chicago children through innovative, engaging, and sustainable youth running programs. But what exactly does that mean? Read on.

After an initial phone call, I sat down with the Chicago Run team in early September to talk through one of their new programs. After years of taking their programs into Chicago Public Schools, they were piloting a program with the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC)—a juvenile temporary detention facility that provides secure housing for youth from ages 10 through 16 years, who are awaiting adjudication of their cases by the Juvenile Division of the Cook County Courts. When I heard this, I knew for certain that we had to tell this story.

When I arrived at Chicago Run’s headquarters, I sat down with Lauren Shirk, Director of Communications and Events and Alex Landberg, Interim Executive Director. Landberg shared that Chicago Run was founded 10 years ago in direct response to a severe lack of physical fitness opportunities for Chicago Public School students. At the time, the average CPS student was engaging in approximately 60 minutes of physical activity on a weekly basis. They were initially focused on elementary school students. Now, their programming starts at the pre-k level and goes through high school—and most recently, they’ve explored opportunities outside of the school system.

According to Landberg, the work at JTDC is phase one of what’s next for the organization. It was born out of a relationship with the center’s medical director, Dr. Ngozi Ezike. Each program is six weeks of training and culminates in a 3K race. The spring’s pilot program was such a success that the Chicago Run team returned this fall for round two.

  Chicago Run team, Dr. Ezike and JTDC staff, and me peeking out from behind after a successful race day.

Chicago Run team, Dr. Ezike and JTDC staff, and me peeking out from behind after a successful race day.

On October 27, I joined the team at JTDC’s facilities for race day. The Chicago Run team arrived bright and early at 8am to set up. Admittedly, I did not know what to expect when I arrived. I was dressed in jeans and a sweater, but the Chicago Run team came to participate, armed with their best active wear and all the bells and whistles to make this day a success for the residents. When we got to the outdoor space, the team set up a formal finish line, a race clock, fueling stations with water and snacks, and had t-shirts and race bibs ready for the residents. The attention to detail was admirable, and I was eager for the residents to join us.

Shortly after 9am, the residents began to arrive. We didn’t have a gauge for what the turnout would be, but were excited when we saw that—according to Dr. Ezike’s final headcount—18 of the youth participants showed up to run the race. It’s important to note that this program is optional, and the residents can opt in—or out—as they see fit. With a great crowd, we were off to a fantastic start.

The race began before the 10 o’clock hour. With a DJ onsite (a resident of the facility with a real talent on the 1s and 2s) to keep energy up, the residents were off on their 10 laps around the perimeter of the space. As I stood with the Chicago Run team to cheer them on, I was impressed by their determination and resilience. The physical fitness levels varied, but the commitment did not waiver. As residents completed the race, they jumped right back in to pace and encourage their fellow participants. Every single resident finished the race, and you could feel the energy of accomplishment in the air. As we high-fived the participants, and asked them about their experience, it was clear that I had taken part in something really transformative.

On race day, one of the residents was overheard saying, “this really hurts, but I’m not going to quit because then it means nothing. I don’t start stuff if I’m not going to finish, so I’m going to finish this race,” and she did just that. Dr. Ezike reported that in a recent poll, 90% of the residents reported an easier time sleeping after participating in the race. I watched participants as they lined up for photos, chatted with the Chicago Run team, and inquired about their race times. It was clear that they had gained something more than a restful sleep. Though I am certain they each had a personal experience that I could never convey, I feel confident in sharing that they exited that space more confident and secure than how they entered it—and honestly, so did I.

Chicago Run plans to return to the Center in the spring for another round of race training, and I’m already checking my schedule to see how I can volunteer. If you’d like to learn more about and contribute to their mission and/or explore ways to get involved, you can do so here.

This blog post was originally published by Chicago Ideas as part of their storytelling series The 77 Project. Learn more about Chicago Ideas and The 77 Project at chicagoideas.com.

The 77 Project is a storytelling and media project presented in partnership with Xfinity with additional support from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to help redefine the narrative of our neighborhoods from the inside out.

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Why I Chose Team Chicago Run: My Up2Us Coaching Experience

 Erin with a Chicago Run participant at the 2017 Lung Run 5k.

Erin with a Chicago Run participant at the 2017 Lung Run 5k.

 Erin with special education students at Biedler Elementary.

Erin with special education students at Biedler Elementary.

My name is Erin McIntosh and I began working for Chicago Run as an Up2Us Coach through AmeriCorps in August of 2017. Now eleven months later, I have personally coached 13 of our 49 partnering Chicago Public Schools, participated in the first ever program for residents of the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, and contributed to our expansion into the Oakley Square Section 8 Public Housing complex.

These experiences among many more have contributed to my decision to run the 2018 Bank of America Chicago Marathon for Team Chicago Run and benefit the kids, coaches, volunteers, and staff of this incredible organization.

While these experiences influenced my commitment to fundraising and training for Team Chicago Run, my devotion to the sport was established much earlier on. At the age of 12, I began running for my middle school Cross Country team and since then have participated in over 30 seasons of competitive distance running. I have had the opportunity to lead as captain of my college team and run in the NCAA DIII National Championship in 2016. Over the years, I was privileged with guidance from brilliant coaches and teammates which I carry with me to this very day. These relationships that I have formed through running have shaped who I am and everything I know I can be.

These aspects that have defined my running experience are present within the programs of Chicago Run and are why I believe in this organization. These friendships, outlets, challenges, and successes that Chicago Run provides to its 18,000 participants are why I am running the marathon.

I am running to ensure the continuation of Chicago Run’s impact. I am running because Chicago Run proves to these kids that they can persevere, overcome, and thrive through what they never thought possible. I am running because eleven months later, I have learned that these kids have everything they need within them, only with the Chicago Run community behind them and platform beneath them do they have the tools to move mountains.

Reflection by Erin McIntosh, Up2Us Coach

 Erin leading students at Clinton Elementary in some yoga poses.

Erin leading students at Clinton Elementary in some yoga poses.

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Partnership with Runn Chicago

In August 2017, Chicago Run was introduced to Runn Chicago, a fun new indoor treadmill gym in the Elston corridor, when we partnered with them for their Grand Opening “Treadmill Relay”. Keith Kimble, the owner of Runn Chicago approached Chicago Run  because he was adamant that he wanted his studio to not only provide a novel fitness concept, but also to support the community. When we talked about why Runn Chicago and Chicago Run should partner, it seemed to be a natural fit given our shared emphasis on helping Chicagoans to build healthy habits (something that Keith admits he found later in life and wishes he had started when he was young).

The event was such a huge success engaging more than 100 runners from novice to elite marathoners, who collectively ran over 125 miles. Keith and Runn Chicago generously donated $5 for each mile, raising over $600 to support Chicago Run’s programs!  

Runn Chicago is the perfect workout alternative for those who are looking to keep up with their New Year’s Resolutions while avoiding the unforgiving winter season. Runn Chicago classes are dynamic 30 to 45-minute indoor, treadmill-based workouts, incorporating both hills and flat ground courses, that will be sure to make you work up a sweat. At Chicago Run, we believe that fitness should be fun for everyone, no matter your speed or skill level, and Runn Chicago does an amazing job of doing just that!

With the great success of the Grand Opening Event, Chicago Run is excited to continue to partner with Runn Chicago.  On Thursday, February 22, Chicago Run’s Next Generation Board will be hosting its Winter Refuel: Runn-a-thon & Happy Hour at Runn Chicago.  The event will include a Runn-a-thon, where teams of up to 4 can compete for prizes, and challenge each other through “hurdles,” while raising money and awareness to support Chicago Run’s programs.  With less than 2 weeks to go until the event, we have already sold out our first two timeslots, and so have added another Runn at 8 PM. Team and individual sign ups, as well as non-runner tickets are still available at www.chicagorun.org/refuel. We would love for you to join us to see Runn Chicago firsthand and support Chicago Run children and youth!

Reflection by Patrick Miller, Up2Us Coach, and Debra Michaels, Development Manager

 Runn Chicago Grand Opening Relay Event

Runn Chicago Grand Opening Relay Event

 Runn Chicago Grand Opening Relay Event

Runn Chicago Grand Opening Relay Event

 Next Generation Board at Runn Chicago

Next Generation Board at Runn Chicago

 Overhead view of Runn Chicago space

Overhead view of Runn Chicago space

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Start of 2018 Running Mates Winter Season

With the promising start of a new year ahead of us, we at Chicago Run are throwing on our winter jackets and lacing up our sneakers, for the start of the 2018 Running Mates Winter Season! We are excited to have 15 teams participating this season, with over 300 students, to begin our indoor practices. As our students know, with every new start of a Running Mates season they get the opportunity to improve their PACER scores from the prior season. PACER is the Progressive Aerobic Cardiovascular Endurance Run and is a national youth fitness test. As you can see in the photos below, students at NTA (National Teachers Academy), Murphy Elementary, and O’Keefe School showed up and proved us right! 

Until the weather decides to warm up for us, we mostly have to conduct practices indoors, and therefore we’ve planned some really fun games and circuits to challenge and engage students! We also continue to integrate mindfulness practices with students by ending our sessions with yoga and meditation!

The students are excited and eager to show off their winter training when they cross the finish line at the St. Patty’s Day 5k on March 17!  We hope to see our volunteers at the race pacing our students and cheering them on!  If you would like to volunteer, please email Ryan@chicagorun.org.

Reflection by Patrick Miller, Up2Us Coach

 Students at NTA were excited to show off some of the more difficult yoga poses they were able to do.

Students at NTA were excited to show off some of the more difficult yoga poses they were able to do.

 Students at NTA helping their Coach setup for the PACER test.

Students at NTA helping their Coach setup for the PACER test.

 Students at NTA getting ready to run the PACER.

Students at NTA getting ready to run the PACER.

 Students at Murphy running stairs during practice.

Students at Murphy running stairs during practice.

 Students at Murphy running their warmup laps around the school during practice!

Students at Murphy running their warmup laps around the school during practice!

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 Students at O’Keefe running the PACER test!

Students at O’Keefe running the PACER test!

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2017 Summer Program Reflection

 Martin after finishing the Lung Run 5k on August 27, 2017

Martin after finishing the Lung Run 5k on August 27, 2017

 Martin speaking to the Iraqi Youth Leaders from World Chicago about Chicago Run

Martin speaking to the Iraqi Youth Leaders from World Chicago about Chicago Run

Summer 2017...two words...CHICAGO RUN!  The summer program officially began at Little Village High School Campus during the month of July and I couldn’t wait to get started.  From the first day of practice I knew we were off to a great start.  The positivity and energy brought by everyone who came to practice was inspiring - it was as if we all knew each other our entire lives.  Better yet, right away I could see bonds and connections forming among the runners and coaches. On Tuesdays, practice would consist of team challenges that offered even more time for everybody to learn how to communicate, respect, and show good sportsmanship. In the end it was all about having fun and supporting one another. Creativity from the coaches as well as ideas from the runners made each and every day a unique experience.

Then there were the two World Chicago events.  One group of students we got to bond with was from Iraq while the other group was from the U.K.  On both occasions, I alongside a couple of other Chicago Run youth spoke about what Chicago Run has meant to us.  Afterwards, we participated in ice breakers and small group activities.  At the end of each event we ate lunch and  had the opportunity to talk, learn about each other, and share social media since so many friendships were made! It was terrific!  Both events were great and showed us that no matter where you're from, or who you are, you can’t judge a person without getting to know them first. 

In addition to all the fun, there was always work to be done.  By that I mean we all knew there was a 5k on August 27, 2017.  So we had our days for our long runs whether if it was at the park or over the bridge.  Everyone had a goal in mind and never gave up.  Everyone worked hard at his/her pace and we supported each other along the way.  Then the day came, August 27th, everyone was lined up at the start line and the excitement was amazing! So many runners in one spot, you just felt like you belonged and it was a wonderful feeling.  As the 5k began and I went running, I felt alive, as if there's nothing to worry about.  It just feels so peaceful, as you're focused on your run, despite everything happening around you.  When I finished the race, I waited for the other runners to arrive & cheered them on as they crossed the finish line.  During that time, I was also quickly interviewed about Chicago Run and my experience with it so far.  It went great and once everyone crossed the Finish Line, it was all chatter and high-fives, and all around.  Everyone was so proud of each other, giving feedback, and advice.  I could tell no one wanted to leave.

This summer is the best one I’ve experienced so far in my life.  I won’t forget anybody or the memories at all.  Chicago Run has changed my life in all sorts of ways and I can’t thank them enough for everything they have done for me and others as well.  For now though, I just have to continue my running and wait to see what lies ahead of me in my future.  One thing I know for sure though, whatever it is, it will definitely involve Chicago Run and I’m proud to say that. 

Reflection by Martin Garcia, L.A.C.E. Up! program participant 

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Full Circle: Chicago Run

 Christian running with a Running Mates student at the 4-Mile Classic race on May 18, 2017

Christian running with a Running Mates student at the 4-Mile Classic race on May 18, 2017

 Christian volunteering at the 2017 Little Steps, Big Stars fundraiser

Christian volunteering at the 2017 Little Steps, Big Stars fundraiser

Chicago Run came to my school when I was in 4th grade and hasn’t left me since. I started out with the Chicago Runners program racing my friends up and down the block until the time would come where we would all have to go back to the classroom. It was perfect. We were able to release so much energy in a short amount of time and go back to class ready to learn. This continued over the years until I was in 7th grade. Not many of the kids were really participating anymore because in middle school running wasn’t exactly the cool thing to do. However, at that time the Running Mates after-school program came to CICS Bucktown, which quickly caught my attention, and I knew I had to join. The after-school practices were great and I realized I enjoyed running. It isn’t easy and it’s almost never comfortable but it’s so revitalizing. Through Running Mates, I made many lasting friendships and learned the value of health. I even got to experience some healthy competition at the races, and I loved it. My very first race was the Shamrock Shuffle. I don’t think I had ever seen that many people in one place. There was a very unique feeling that came with race day that was a mix a nerves and excitement. When I reached the finish line that day, I knew running had become a big part of who I was and who I wanted to be.

I continued running in high school developing on a more competitive level. Our track team saw plenty of success my first two years going to state for the first time ever and qualifying again the following year. Junior year our track program got cut. I stopped running for some time until I heard of a new program that Chicago Run was launching called L.A.C.E Up! Luckily, I was able to attend some of the group events before going off to college at University of Michigan. I participated in a few University of Chicago track meets over the summer through Chicago Run and connected with the other participants from across the city.

I haven’t lost touch with the organization now that I am in college, either. I continue to volunteer and am interning with them over the summer. Furthermore, I made the decision to run my first Chicago Marathon with Team Chicago Run and fundraise for the organization.  Chicago Run has shaped me in ways I never thought anything could. I have learned and experienced so much due to my involvement with Chicago Run and now it’s my turn to give that back to others and to the organization itself. I am more than thrilled to continue seeing the organization grow and witnessing the impact exercise can have on Chicago’s youth.

Reflection by Christain Ureña, Chicago Run Intern and Marathon Charity Team Runner

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Creating Fitness Videos at Chicago West Side Christian School

During the months of November and December, the Chicago Run Staff assisted one of our partner schools (Chicago West Side Christian) during their Wednesday Academy sessions. Wednesday Academy happens one hour a week while teachers are gathering for their professional development time. Volunteers and after-school staff lead students in a variety of activities that foster creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, and social-emotional development. Our staff worked specifically with the fourth grade students once a week doing 30 minutes of physical activity and 30 minutes of script writing for a Chicago Run fitness video. The first two weeks were a bit challenging, trying to figure out the routine and what worked and what did not work. We soon realized that the more Chicago Run staff members we had the smoother each visit was.

The first two weeks we developed worksheets to help the students come up with a theme for their workout. Once a theme was created, the students then brainstormed different exercise moves that correlated with their theme. This step probably took the longest but once they started to get creative the rest was easy! It also really helped having so many Chicago Run staff members there so the kids could bounce their ideas off of them and get their input. The students used templates made by Chicago Run to help them write their first draft and eventually a full indoor fitness script was created. The kids really had fun coming up with different themes for their workouts! The themes ranged from different sports to dance moves and we even had one that was jungle themed!

The final script was recorded by the students and then filmed by the staff at Chicago Run. This whole project was a great way for these kids to get excited about getting physically active while creating something that was their own. We wanted to show what the amount of effort and creativity it takes to write and film the videos we have on our website from start to finish! It was a great experience and each student came up with great ideas! I can't wait to see what the next group of kids comes up with the next time Chicago Run does this activity!

Reflection by Jackie Webb, Coach Across America Coach at Chicago Run

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