Beginning running early is a key to success and beating childhood obesity, too. The Active Southern West Virginia Kids Run Club is a perfect example of how it gets started. Since its inception with one school three years ago, the program has now involved more than 1000 students and hundreds of adult volunteers. There have been 21 different Kids Run Clubs and two community groups. The program added five new school groups this fall alone.
Recently Emily Wilkinson, the Active SWV Community Health Director, had a conversation with reporter Eric Douglas about her role and experience over the last 6 months working with Kids Run Clubs.
Eric: What is the reaction to “running” as exercise?
Emily: We believe the tremendous amount of support and growth of our Kids Run Club Program highlights how the southern West Virginia community shows interest in running as a form of routine physical activity. Active SWV Kids Run Clubs are based upon the same core beliefs, but are tailored to the specific needs and desires of the particular school group.
During our Coaches Training, we emphasize the role of both training runs and game play; however, I am always surprised at how hardcore many of the Run Clubs turn out to be! Several Active SWV Run Clubs do stair running stations each week- and the kids enjoy it! When I visit Run Clubs, I always try to ask kids about what is their favorite part of Run Club. Many kids will tell you it is lap running. The celebratory end of season Fun Run event provides a goal for kids to work towards at practice and gives them a strong sense of dedication and achievement as they work towards this goal.
The special thing about the Active SWV Kids Run Club Program is it gives participants the skills and confidence to be physically active on their own. Running doesn’t require any equipment or a particular space, and we hope a fostered sense of enjoyment for running will encourage youth to stay active daily. As word of our program spreads, schools are now reaching out to us about starting a program. This is something the community wants and actively seeks out for their kids, not something they feel forced to do.
Eric: Do you see it carrying through from your Kids Run Club Program to their parents? In other words, are the parents interested in picking it up, too?
Emily: This is one of our biggest goals looking ahead. We have seen strong parental support in many Kids Run Clubs. Some parents volunteer at practices as Coaches. At the culminating Fun Run end of season event, the parents and family members of participants are invited to attend to either run the race with their child or to be there to cheer the runners on. It is always refreshing to see such strong parental attendance and involvement in these events. The Active SWV Kids Run Club program also has a “At Home Running Buddy Guide” to encourage kids to run or walk with family members on non Run Club days. As our program grows, we plan to create additional resources for parents and family members with ways to support their child in physical activity endeavors.
We have also seen strong family support for running through our Community Captain led running and trail running groups, another one of Active SWV’s programs, that encourages families to run together on a weekly basis.
Eric: Obviously, childhood obesity is a big problem. How are the kids doing? Are most of them able to run? Or are you having to teach them how to even exercise, like a couch-to-5K type program.
Emily: The kids do great and are not pressured to start running if a walking routine is a more appropriate way to start. The environment of Active SWV Kids Run Clubs is inclusive, non-competitive, and fun! It is our goal to get kids excited about running and physical activity. By maintaining a fun and relaxed environment, this allows the kids to excel and build upon their physical fitness levels. Kids know how to play, and the Active SWV Kids Run Club Program harnesses this love of play to educate local youth about their health and physical well-being. All levels of ability are welcome in Active SWV Run Clubs and the positive environment of Run Clubs promotes self-improvement and goal setting.
Would you like to see a Kids Run Club at your school? Start by contacting Emily!
(304) 254-8488 [email protected]
About the Kids Run Club Program
The Active SWV Kids Run Program seeks to improve the health outcomes of southern West Virginian youth by empowering them with the opportunities, skills, and knowledge to be physically active. Our program is designed to instill healthy habits in our area’s youth and to get them excited about running and physical activity.
Any interested child may participate; there is no skill requirement, equipment purchases, or membership fees. The Active SWV Kids Run Club Program is provided at no cost to the participant or school and was designed specifically to be accessible for those who may not have the resources to participate in another organized sport.
With such a high percentage of children who live in poverty in our area, we believe it is imperative to continue to engage children in physical activity at no cost to them. Most of our Kids Run Clubs take place on school grounds after school, but others are before school or even during school breakfast time or morning hours to ensure that all kids can participate. This structure makes it easier on many families to provide transportation who otherwise may not be able to take their child to a sport at another location. Many of our Run Clubs have organized carpools to increase participation, while some even provide bus rides home after the club.
The experience of Active SWV Kids Run Clubs is positive, inclusive, and non-competitive. The program is designed to make children of all abilities feel successful in their running endeavors and to get them excited about physical activity. We track attendance and participation rather than ability, and celebrate the accomplishments of the group over individuals. It is our desire that all participants find joy and confidence with running and physical activity, so that they can continue to be active beyond the club.
Active SWV Kids Run Clubs last roughly six to eight weeks per season, with most schools having both a fall and spring season. Several of our schools also have winter or summer seasons. Our Kids Run Clubs meet for at least sixty minutes or more each week.
Each season of Active SWV Kids Run Clubs end in a celebratory Fun Run. Fun Runs are non-competitive, race-like events that celebrate the hard work of youth participants. Many Kids Run Clubs add their own flair to the Fun Run event, adding in themes like Color Runs, Costume Runs, and Superhero Runs. The event is not timed, and all participants receive finisher medals and certificates. Siblings, parents, and family members are invited to join in on the event, cheering on their child or running alongside them.
In just three short years, the energy and response generated by the Active SWV Kids Run Program has been nothing short of a phenomenon, involving over 1000 youth and several hundred volunteers. The program began with a pilot club at just one school in 2015. Now, there have been Active SWV Kids Run Clubs at twenty-one schools and two community groups. This fall, we have added five new Kids Run Clubs to our family. We anticipate continued growth of this program and seek support to sustain and grow this physical activity movement sweeping across our region. Not only are the number of Active SWV Kids Run Clubs growing in number, but they are also strengthening in size. Many Kids Run Clubs have participation numbers that make up over half of eligible aged students. We believe this demonstrates the strong need for and support of the Active SWV Kids Run Club program from teachers, students, and families.
It is a program that students are excited to participate in and that schools are excited to be a part of. As schools and community members hear about the Active SWV Kids Run Club Program, they are reaching out to us to start a Run Club of their own. We recognize this contagious response as a testimony to the positive impact Active SWV Kids Run Clubs have in our community.
Community Health Director
Active Southern West VirginiaShare