A group of 150 kids from the North Side who might not otherwise have the opportunity to run this year’s Toyota of Pittsburgh Kids Marathon will lace up their shoes and head to the starting line on April 30th.
It’s a result of an innovative partnership between fitUnited and Project R.U.N.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, 30 percent of school children in Allegheny County are overweight or obese, which could affect their school performance. Kids in underserved communities are particularly at risk.
So fitUnited, a United Way of Southwestern PA program, teamed up with Project R.U.N. (Reaching Underserved Neighborhoods), an initiative of the Kids of STEEL program from Pittsburgh Three Rivers Marathon, Inc. (P3R) to provide safe, fun exercise and access to healthy snacks for kids.
The fitUnited initiative aims to increase physical activity levels and improve nutrition in kids from birth to age 12. And Project R.U.N. provides complimentary race registrations and transportation to select youth-serving organizations. Children who complete the three-month program receive a new pair of running shoes and free admission to the Toyota Pittsburgh Kids Marathon, says Christine Grady, United Way’s fitUnited program director.
“Through Project R.U.N., we are able to partner with P3R to help young people make healthier decisions through physical activities and smart food choices,” Grady adds.
Last year, fitUnited hosted just one Project R.U.N. site. But in 2016, fitUnited expanded to five programs in the North Side including Providence Family Support Center, Allegheny Elementary, Sarah Heinz House, Bethany House and Allegheny Center Alliance Church.
Grady, who is also a fitUnited coach, meets with kids at Allegheny Elementary to help them train every Wednesday at 7:30 a.m. In addition to building their endurance, kids in the fitUnited program are also introduced to new and healthy snacks.
“The kids at our site were chomping on bok choy at 8 a.m. in the morning and loving it!” said Grady. “And at other sites, nutritionists have been doing food tastings and cooking demos with parents.”
Next year, fitUnited hopes to offer training at more sites, but will need more than volunteers.
“We’re really looking for funding to help us expand the program next year,” says Grady. “We’re looking for corporate and individual donors who want to help buy a child a pair of running shoes or cover their registration fee, but also to volunteer to run with them.”
It’s been a long road, but Grady has seen these kids make amazing progress.
“The very first week we did one circuit of the gym and there was a lot of complaining. Now they are doing 10 circuits of the gym,” says Grady. “Running with the children makes running more enjoyable despite the fact that it’s 7:30 a.m. For someone who is interested in being active and giving back to the community, it’s very rewarding.”