Worth Knowing: Spotlight on Finding Our Stride

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There are a lot of great non-profits toiling away to make the Upper Valley a better place. And every now and again Worth Knowing puts the spotlight on one of them. Today we’re spotlighting Finding Our Stride.

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Finding Our Stride is a school-based running program for underserved middle and elementary schools in the Upper Valley. In this context, underserved means a school where 30% or more of the children receive free or reduced cost lunches. Finding Our Stride seeks to build fitness, self-esteem and teamwork through running programs it offers at these schools. In addition to addressing childhood obesity and promoting increased outdoor activity, Finding Our Stride focuses on fostering self-esteem through healthy exercise.

Finding Our Stride grew out of early philanthropic efforts of Jenny Williams and David Leatherwood. In 2006, Williams and Leatherwood created the Children's Fund of the Upper Valley with support from their business, Norwich Partners, to promote and underwrite children’s activities throughout the Upper Valley. (Norwich Partners owns hotels throughout New England and Florida, including these local properties in Hanover/Lebanon: the Courtyard by Marriott, the Residence Inn and the Element.) The Children's Fund is administered as a component fund of the Upper Valley Region of New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and regularly dispensed approximately $200,000 each year to support children's activities. But Williams soon had another idea. 

Indian River School runners training with Dartmouth students

Williams had coached middle and high school running teams from 2008 through 2016. She saw first-hand the positive effects of coaching, teamwork and exercise on her young trainees. But she also recognized that there were scores of children in the Upper Valley without access to even a basic running program.  So in 2011, in collaboration with the Healthy Eating, Active Living program at DHMC and the Mascoma Valley Recreation program, Williams launched her first running program with the Indian River School.  She recruited a coach and the running program was offered for eight weeks in the fall and spring. She watched the program grow and thrive over the next 3 years. 30-35 children from Indian River School participated in each season. (The program is offered in fall and spring.)

In 2015, serendipity brought Williams together with Sheila Powers, the principal of White River School. The White River School was already offering a very successful program for girls grades 3-5 called Girls on the Run. Powers asked Williams what she could do for White River School boys of the same age, to provide them with the type of team building and health-related opportunities the girls were experiencing in Girls on the Run. Ms. Powers recruited the father of a student and two teachers to get the program off the ground. Finding Our Stride is now in its 7th season at the White River Schools. The program is so popular that it has to be capped at 25 runners per season.

This is how Finding Our Stride works. Williams - along with her associate, Tara McGovern - identifies schools that meet the underserved criteria and offers them the ability to participate in a Finding Our Stride-sponsored running program with a commitment of 6 seasons over 3 years. If the subject school can identify a coach or coaches, Finding Our Stride pays each coach a stipend based on their experience, provides the coach with a curriculum and funds certain aspects of the running program such as snacks.  If coaches feel the purchase of running shoes will be a hardship for a family, the family is provided with a voucher to Stateline Sports for a fitting and free shoes. Each school team gets to design a T-shirt (think uniform) every season, and Finding Our Stride pays for those. Each running team must also participate in a community event that benefits a non-profit organization in the Upper Valley. Although Finding Our Stride will generally bear the cost of any registration fees, once a year, team members must each raise a small amount of money to support the activity. Williams estimates that the cost of funding a school is $6,000-8,000 per year, which works out to be about $125 per runner per season. 

Woodsville coach with runner

Since 2016, each Finding Our Stride team has participated in the CHaD Hero race. Every team member running the 1 mile race is encouraged to raise $10 and every team member running the 5k race must raise $50. (The prize for raising the most is a voucher for a pair of running shoes - of course!) In addition to paying the registration fees for each runner, Finding Our Stride also pays for a parent or caregiver of each runner to participate. In 2016, 4 teams comprised of 50 Finding Our Stride runners raised $2,000 for CHaD. In 2017, 125 Finding Our Stride runners raised $6,500 - which became $13,000 when matching funds from Norwich Partners and the Upper Valley-based Positive Tracks were added. This year, Finding Our Stride is sponsoring over 300 runners and 30 coaches to run in the CHaD Hero on October 14. Who knows how much the Finding Our Stride runners will raise this year?! 

Finding our Stride runners at the CHaD Hero Race in 2017

Williams is delighted that various measures of the program continue to suggest it is achieving its mission. The participating students are invariably happy when their efforts result in tangible improved athletic performance and they revel in the joys of being on a team. Many of these kids haven't had any prior team experience. Early data shows a 24% increase in the number of runners who are now active 6+ days per week, and a 64% increase in the number of kids who can run for 25 + minutes without stopping.  As for self-esteem, surveys completed by the children at the beginning and end of a season indicate that the negatives associated with self-esteem are being reduced. The number of kids who did not feel confident in themselves was reduced by 47% from the beginning of the season to the end. 

White River School runners

Do you know a school that could benefit from a Finding Our Stride running program? Let Williams know by emailing her at jenny05055@gmail.com.

Or would you like to support the Finding Our Stride runners in this year's CHaD Hero on October 14? You can make a donation to the Finding Our Stride team here: Finding Our Stride CHaD Team.

Is there an Upper Valley non-profit you'd like to see under the spotlight in Worth Knowing? Let us know by emailing worthknowingduv@gmail.com.

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