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Community Spotlight: Teens Run DC

A Q&A with Stephen Hocker, Executive Director of Teens Run DC.

How did Teens Run DC (TRDC) start?

Founded in 2009, TRDC began at Wilson Senior High School with 19 students and 7 teachers. Since then, TRDC has grown from a pilot project to a nationally-recognized organization with innovative and research-driven programming, now serving nearly 500 middle and high school students at eight partner schools throughout the District of Columbia through our curriculum-based approach that employs running, mentoring, and social emotional learning.

What are TRDC's program offerings?

Teens Run DC is the only program for DC's middle and high school students focused on health and wellbeing that supports students academically, physically, and socially, both in and out of school. The organization's founding beliefs that (1) positive change and growth occur within the context of long-term, caring relationships and a welcoming community; and (2) bolstering the physical, social, and emotional well-being of at-risk youth leads to lasting achievement in academics and beyond, and continues to shape the vision and direction of the organization. Our program promotes the physical and mental health of at-risk youth in some of DC's most underserved communities through three key program offerings:

1) Mentoring: TRDC's coaches and volunteer mentors provide consistent guidance to our students and serve as positive role models. Coaches are at each school two days per week and volunteer mentors work alongside coaches during Saturday practices.

2) Social Emotional Learning (SEL): SEL tools are critical for healthy transitions into adulthood, but underserved youth often lack the support to develop these skills. Students meet with coaches for four one-hour sessions each week to learn skills from the SEL curriculum.

3) Running and Physical Activity: In TRDC's distance running program, students develop personal fitness goals. With the help of our coaches, they improve cardiovascular fitness by engaging in a minimum of 150 minutes of physical exercise each week. Our weekday programming is complemented by Saturday practices and races that attract community members to come out and support our students.

Four additional offerings:

4) After-School Programming: After-school sessions engage youth at each of our partner schools in a distance running curriculum for 75-90 minutes two days per week. In these sessions, students focus on setting and achieving personal running goals and developing life skills. Our coaches act as mentors to participating students, helping them track progress towards their goals.

5) Saturday Practices: TRDC coaches host Saturday running practices that assure students are not only engaging in physical activity on school days, but also on weekends. At Saturday running practices, youth are paired with volunteer mentors who run with their mentees and provide guidance on problems students face outside of running. Our volunteer mentors provide consistency in students' lives and promote trust-building while encouraging them to meet their physical fitness goals.

6) Races: All TRDC participants are encouraged to participate in monthly 5K to 10K races. These weekend races offer students an opportunity to track their progress and celebrate their accomplishments. Our races are open to the whole community and include the Jingle All the Way 5K, the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler and 5K, and our annual TRDC Mentoring Matters 5K.

7) Summer Programming: When school is out of session during the summer months, TRDC holds four weeks of Summer Programming. In July, our coaches offer two days of programming per week at each of our partner schools. This summer programming provides students with structured physical activity during the summer and helps maintain student involvement in our program from one school year to the next.

How many youth does Teens Run DC serve?

Teens Run DC is presently serving nearly 500 students from 5 of the Wards of the District.

Why distance running?  How does it empower youth?

Teens Run DC uses distance running as a medium to teach life skills (including goal-setting) for many reasons. First, distance running is a skill that can be utilized for the rest of their life with little to no equipment costs (only the cost of running shoes). Second, research has shown the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of distance running. Finally, distance running encompasses three of Teens Run DC’s core values- vision refers to setting goals, commitment refers to creating a plan to achieve those goals, and effort refers to actually following through on that plan. To achieve any goal in life, whether it be academic, social, or athletic to name a few, one has to follow these three steps. Distance running is also a skill that can be utilized for the rest of their life for a healthy physical and mental well-being with little to no equipment costs (only the cost of running shoes).

Distance running empowers youth because running allows them a tangible means to track their progress and see improvement. Three miles seems daunting to a student the first time they run a mile; however, youth notice the more they run, the easier it becomes. Their first timed mile with a time of 14 minutes becomes  a 12-minute mile after 8 weeks of practice. The first time youth run 2 miles, they may walk more than half of it, but the 6th time they do it, they only walk for 2 minutes. Accomplishing their first (or second or third) 5K shows youth that they can achieve their vision through commitment and effort.

How can youth and mentors get involved with your programs?

We welcome all prospective youth and volunteers with open arms- we’d love to have you join us! Prospective youth and mentors can get involved with our programs by visiting our website!

Parents/guardians of students can go to this link to see our program offerings and our calendar to see times and dates of events, and complete this student enrollment form. By completing the form, students get a Teens Run DC technical t-shirt!

Prospective volunteers can visit our website to see the different types of volunteer opportunities available. The majority of our volunteer opportunities occur on weekends, generally Saturdays from 10am to noon. Volunteers can choose to be a Friend of our program and attend practices/races/events whenever their schedule allows. Volunteers can also choose to be Mentors who are matched up with an individual mentee and attend the majority of practices and races.  All TRDC volunteers are required to complete a volunteer application and the DCPS clearance process and are also required to attend a volunteer orientation (held prior to Saturday practice on select Saturday’s). Mentors have additional clearances to complete.

If future students or volunteers have any questions, feel free to email Alee Wade, TRDC’s Program Manager, at alee@teensrundc.org.

How can D.C. residents help support Teens Run DC?

D.C. residents can support Teens Run DC in many way! We would love to have them join us for practices, races, and volunteer opportunities- TRDC welcomes individuals of all ages and abilities to join us on community walks/runs around DC! Residents can also support TRDC through donations- every dollar helps support our youth in schools and in our mentoring program! Lastly, Teens Run DC will hold our 4th Annual Mentoring Matters 5K in Anacostia Park on Saturday, June 1st. This race is open to the public, and information regarding registration should be available on the TRDC website after the Holidays.