April 8, 2015 // 10:25 AM
Kids Running to Help Kids Walk: The Next Generation of Innovators
Written by Scott Miller
Some cultures in developing nations see a child born with clubfoot as cursed and sometimes turn to witchcraft for a cure. Through an innovative partnership, these children are getting medical and spiritual support — and children in Eastern Lancaster County are getting an opportunity to strengthen their own bodies and enrich their souls by giving to others.
Last year, Garden Spot Village and the Lancaster Family YMCA launched the first YMCA Kids Marathon in conjunction with the Garden Spot Village Marathon. Held the night before the adult's marathon, the event gives young runners, ages 6 through 12, a chance to experience the excitement of a big race. Participants are encouraged to raise money for CURE International, a locally-based organization that delivers medical care to children with clubfoot, cleft palate, hydrocephalus, and other treatable conditions.
"Establishing regular running or exercise programs is important to help children develop healthy bodies. Developing a perspective that focuses on the importance of others' well-being is critical to becoming an emotionally health adult," says Steve Lindsey, chief executive officer at Garden Spot Village. "The focus of the CURE fund-raising option is to help children realize the positive impact that they can have on the lives of those less fortunate."
CURE has hospitals and programs around the world, including Afghanistan, the Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Niger; the Philippines, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, and Zambia. Since 1998, CURE's network of charitable hospitals and surgical programs has seen more than 2.4 million outpatients, performed more than 167,000 surgeries and trained more than 7,200 medical professionals. Last year, approximately 150 young runners participated in the event and raised $3,665 for CURE's Global Children's Fund, which serves 29 countries.
"CURE is about healing people physically and helping people spiritually," says Brant Hansen, CURE storyteller. "CURE not only heals kids for today, but we also train doctors who are nationals in the countries we serve. They're becoming wonderful doctors who can heal people for decades. Each of our hospitals is a teaching hospital, so we can multiply ourselves."
Taking an Idea and Running with it
Lindsey first encountered the concept of a kids' marathon while running in a marathon in Virginia Beach. He brought the concept back to Lancaster County, where, he says, "the YMCA had recently come to New Holland and was establishing their presence and role in our community. Their focus is on providing programs and services that enhance the spiritual, mental, and physical well-being of our community, so it seemed to be a perfect opportunity for us to join together to promote this new event."
The two organizations have "a lot of mutual mission crossover," says Jeff Kenderdine, CEO of the Lancaster Family YMCA Association. For example, bother encourage intergenerational activities. "What I like about the event is that it really takes some parent involvement and creates opportunities for families to do do things together." In the months leading up to the event, as the participants are logging their first 25 miles, adults must sign off on the entries, and "the whole family can start to adopt some of the healthier lifestyle behaviours, which is one of our core mission objectives," says Kenderdine.
The evening of the Kids Marathon, participants run the final 1.2 miles on a traffic-free course on the Garden Spot Village campus. At the finish, they come down the same runners' chute and see their time on the same clock as the runners in the big race. Each participant receives a shirt and each finisher receives a medal to commemorate the event. "Parents are able to run with their kids, if they wish, and there is a big crowd at the finish line cheering for each competitor," Lindsey says.
The moments are truly memorable. Kenerdine recalls a participant last year who had Down syndrome. "The broad appeal for anybody and everybody was evidenced by that child — seeing the joy as he crossed the finish line. His parents say he's more confident, thanks to the experience," Kenderdine says. "It's a running event, but it's not just a running event."
The event gives people who live at Garden Spot Village "lots of opportunities for an incredibly fun and inspiring evening," Lindsey says. "Whether it is volunteering or cheering, we have an opportunity to experience the fun of hundreds of children completing an important milestone in their lives. Anytime you have a chance for people with lots of wisdom and life experience to share some time with children, it's a win-win."
Looking Down the Road
Event organizers hope to see even more kids participating in this year's Kids Marathon. They continue to look at ways to improve the event and make the experience even more like an adult endurance race. The event may grow in other ways, too. "This year, we hope to encourage every Kids Marathon runner to send a get well message to a child and let them know that they will be running for their healing from across the world," says Lee Lawrence, CURE's church engagement coordinator. The "Recent Patient Updates" page of the cure.org website lets site visitors post messages that can be printed out and given to recipients in CURE's hospitals. "The Kids Marathon was a great way to raise awareness and motivate the runners to support a child with words of encouragement or fundraising. Every dollar raised goes straight to supporting CURE's mission to 'heal the sick and proclaim the Kingdom of God,'" Lawrence says. Some of the people at Garden Spot Village have talked about organizing a trip to CURE's hospital in the Dominican Republic.
Closer to home, registration fees for the Kids Marathon support YMCA programming. Participants have use of the Y as a training resource for up to five months, and families receive nutrition information. The Y promotes the event through its connections with local school districts, and Garden Spot Village provides the venue and the logistical support. Innovative collaborations like these are critical to meeting community needs today and in the future.
"Part of the culture of Garden Spot Village is not to be insular, but to be outwardly focused," Lindsey says. "The Kids Marathon is just one more example of the people of Garden Spot Village using elements of our culture — lifestyles of wellness, commitment to community, encouragement, volunteerism — to have a positive impact on the lives of people in our larger community and around the world in a fun and creative way."
We highly encourage everyone to come out to the Garden Spot Village campus and cheer on the children as they cross the finish line. Not only is it inspiring to them, but it helps those in need. Donations will be accepted to those who would like to help children in need. If you'd like to make a pledge online, please visit CURE.org/donate.
The Kids Marathon is April 10 at 6pm at 433 S. Kinzer Ave, New Holland, PA 17557. We hope to see you there. More information at the Kids Marathon Website.