Local YMCA running programs help kids build character

In an age of cyber bullying, teaching young boys and girls to empower themselves and each other is important. That's the fundamental lesson with the YMCA's Youth Running Programs -- Girls on the Run for young girls, and STRIDE for young boys.

These programs are affiliates of the Metro Detroit YMCA and serve more than 3,000 kids every year. The programs teach the kids character development through running.

"Running is the vessel that we use to teach them some tools like self esteem, positive body image and goal setting," explains Jackie Kippen. She's the Executive Director for Girls on the Run and STRIDE.

"It makes me feel proud of myself and proud of my other friends," says Ronnie Crough, a member of Girls on the Run.

"S is for success; T is for teamwork; R is for respect; I is for inspiration; D is for determination; and E is for excellence of character," explains runner Matthew Hamel. Twice a week, the kids from Lessinger Elementary in Madison Heights meet to learn these life tools through their running accomplishments.

"It's really fun and you get to meet new friends and the lessons really help you in your everyday life and the coaches are amazing," says Crouch.

"I feel like I'm a lot more confident now that I'm in Girls on The Run and I feel better about myself," says runner Charlotte Schultz.

Runner Evan Landstrom tells us STRIDE teaches him that you don't always have to be first.

"You can run at your pace," he says.

"Running is a tool, and that's what we tell the girls," says Sarah Tereau, a coach at Lessinger Elementary. "We really focus on girl comradery and self esteem and anti-bullying."

Each child receives a colored rubber band to count individual laps. Reaching this week's goal, though, of 2.5 miles is a total team effort. Hamel says he likes STRIDE because he gets to run with a team and not by himself.

The 10-week program culminates with a 5K run on Sunday, May 21. It's an event that gives each runner a sense of achievement.

"Last year, it felt amazing because when you're running you feel very tired but when you get to the finish lines it gives you that little bit of courage and it makes you feel like, 'Oh, I can do this,'" says Schultz.

"Not only are they gaining confidence in their physical abilities that they can finish the 5K, but they're gaining confidence in themselves as leaders in their community," says STRIDE coach Josh Sipes.

You can learn more about Girls on the Run at www.girlsontherun.org. To learn more about STRIDE, visit www.ymcastride.org