Imagine being swarmed by an army of over 80 children. Most of them are under ten years old, and so they’re sticky and sweaty and who knows where one of them found dirt to roll around in. Terrifying, right? But somehow that was one of my happiest moments last spring. These kids were participating in a program called Healthy Kids Running Series, a series of five races for children held each fall and spring. I’ve spent over 70 hours volunteering with this program, and even worked as an intern for them for one season. My goal today is to share the positive influence the Healthy Kids Running Series organization has on communities. The Healthy Kids Running Series gives families a sense of community and in turn gives volunteers a way to make a visible impact on our town.

The Healthy Kids Running Series provides a strong sense of community amongst families and their children. The race series has been a part of my town for many years, but a brief hiatus occurred when our coordinator chose to stop organizing the event. When it was revived in September of 2020, I was eager to be a part of it. Our first race had less than thirty kids, the youngest age group only having two members. Our numbers slowly grew over those five weeks, but only one fourth grader was willing to brave the mile race. Each Sunday, I would run the mile with Gavin to keep him company as his parents cheered from around the course. The next season we gained a second miler. The two boys would run neck-in-neck the whole race, and it never ended up mattering who won, just that they were supporting each other. Their families quickly bonded, and Gavin’s family cheered just as hard for Noah as they did their own son. Another way our community came together during this event was because of the pandemic. At the races, we required masks when within close range of other families. Throughout the entire year, despite being an extremely conservative town, we only had one complaint. Families who were opposed to wearing them were still kind to others, keeping their distance, and families who chose to wear masks respected the unmasked in return. It was a bit surreal, seeing a community so divided over these pieces of fabric choosing peace for the sake of watching their kids be happy. Every weekend, new friendships were made, whether it be two toddlers running off together screaming, or parents exchanging compliments on what cool socks their kids were wearing. By the end of each five-week session, the entire crowd would know what the personal records of each kid were and joined together to celebrate each victory and accomplishment.

The Healthy Kids Running Series provided a way to help my community and be able to clearly see how deeply we affect each other. Over the four seasons I worked with the organization, I’ve loved watching the kids grow and learn to love running as much as I do. One runner that sticks out to me is Emme. She began running my first season of Healthy Kids Running Series. She was a second grader in the 2nd through 3rd grade age group, and each week she would finish at the back of the pack. But she did it with a smile and got better every week, always encouraging those around her. The next year, she was the oldest in her age group and started dropping large amounts of time each week. And after each victory, she ran up to the timing chair where I was stationed and thanked me for cheering for her. Those hugs made me so happy. Even a year later I get letters in the mail from her. The last Sunday of our final season was our medal ceremony for all our runners, and I stood in front of a crowd of kids I’ve watched sweat, stumble, and smile, and couldn’t help but smile myself as I reminisced about watching them grow up over the past two years. After all the awards were given, I was handed a small black picture frame with a thank you from every single family at the race. All the kids I cheered for were now yelling my name as I was surrounded by the largest group hug I’ve ever been a part of. Parents came up and thanked me for encouraging their kids, and the runners ran around asking if I would come back to help them run fast when I’m home from college. These kids made me feel so important. I spent my senior year of high school trying to think of ways to be remembered, like silly senior pranks I’d never get the nerve to pull off, but this was the impact I made. It doesn’t need to be loud to leave a mark, and the kids I volunteered with are my legacy.

In conclusion, the Healthy Kids Running Series organization has had an incredibly positive impact on my community. These races have brought us closer together as a whole, and I will forever be grateful for those moments of standing in the middle of an open field surrounded by children running around with melting popsicles and the biggest smiles on their faces.

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