Spreading the health

Second-graders in the Meeting Street Academy running club were all smiles and giggles before, during and after a “workout” last week. Many are excited about earning a new pair of running shoes and participating in the RiverDogs Run Forrest Run 5K.

Over the years, I’ve covered some heartwarming, grass-roots efforts in the Charleston area offering health-related programing to children.

And many of those children are less likely to be exposed to starting life on a healthy track.

From Louie’s Kids and Junior Girls Day Out Community Project to the Charleston Area Children’s Garden Project, the efforts endure even as many are run on shoestring budgets and rely on volunteers and local business sponsors to make them work.

As the school year winds down, three efforts came to my attention that are among the growing outreach to make the entire community healthier. All offer opportunities for locals to get involved by giving donations or volunteering.

A growing trend in the nation and in local schools is establishing school running clubs, which stress participation, not competition.

Upon arriving at Meeting Street Academy last October as special program director, Lori LaFevre started a running club for the children from kindergarten to third grade.

LaFevre started the running club because of the multiple benefits it provides the children, not only establishing running as a healthy, inexpensive and fun activity for life, but teaching them about teamwork and goal-setting, as well as burning off extra energy.

“The goal is to give these students the knowledge and confidence of running so they can continue a healthy life filled with positive activity,” LaFevre says. “Our job is not just to educate our students in the classroom but to encompass their entire well-being.”

After LaFevre asked for help from members of the Charleston Running Club, Amy and Chris Minkel, owners of the new Fleet Feet running store in Mount Pleasant, stepped up months before the store opened in March.

For kids who joined and stuck with the program, the Minkels offered incentives: new running shoes, team shirts and a chance to par-ticipate in the RiverDogs Run Forrest Run 5K on May 25.

That helped participation swell from eight children to 61, or most of the 76 children in kindergarten through the third grade at the school.

“That’s huge participation,” LaFevre says. “The whole point of Fleet Feet being behind us is that the kids are earning their shoes, not getting these shoes.”

Amy Minkel says they were eager to help after moving from Winston-Salem, N.C., where many schools have running clubs. They were surprised the trend was not as widespread in the Charleston area.

“This (helping the academy) was a great opportunity for us to do what we wanted to do: give back to the community,” Minkel says. “We’re hoping what’s going to happen with this running club is that it will continue to thrive and get bigger and move to sister schools and inspire schools in other parts of the community to do the same thing.”

On Monday, those who have earned 10 stars will receive a new pair of running shoes and a team shirt.

Now, LaFevre and the Minkels need volunteers to accompany the students by running and likely walking — possibly mostly walking — with a student during Run Forrest Run.

To sign up, contact LaFevre at llafevre@msa.us.com.

In the past two years, the city of Charleston aquatics program has offered a program for children ages 5-17 designed to bridge the gap between rudimentary swimming lessons and the highly proficient swimming of its Southern Marlins Racing Team with an intramural league swimming team.

Much like school running clubs, the effort focuses on regular participation over competition and on urban youths, though all children can participate. Teams will be based at the city’s three pools: Martin Luther King Jr., Herbert Hasell and W.L. Stephens.

Aquatics Manager Byron Rounds says the swimming lessons often just cover the basics, possibly just enough to keep their head above water in an emergency.

“The main purpose of the intramural league is to build on the basics,” says Rounds, adding that the intramural league is a rebirth of a league that used to be called the Charleston Aquatic Team.

“The intramural league is a different concept. We want to keep it fun and in-house. No high-pressure stuff.”

And yet those who stick with it have moved on to bigger swimming goals, joining the swim team and becoming a lifeguard.

Regarding the latter, Rounds noted that swimming offers opportunities for jobs, from seasonal lifeguards to even a career in aquatics.

Parents must register their children at the Hasell pool by May 27. A mandatory clinic will be held 5-7 p.m. May 29 and 31, and June 3, 5 and 7 at Hasell.

To qualify for the team, youths must be able to swim 25 yards without stopping. The fee for those who qualify is $40 for city residents and $55 for nonresidents with discounts for additional children who participate.

A limited number of scholarships provided by the Logan Rutledge Foundation from proceeds from the Lowcountry Splash, are available for those who qualify. The team also is in need of adult volunteers who want to help the coaching staff.

For information, call 795-5756.

A much more involved program, potentially involving hundreds of girls ages 7-12, is the Junior Girls Day Out Community Project in the Charleston area.

The program will feature clinics and competitions for 10 sports and activities: gymnastics, cheerleading, swimming, volleyball, ten- nis, track and field, basketball, soccer, golf and jump rope.

The effort is getting help from some locally based experts, including former Olympic Training Center Director Dr. John Smyth and University of South Carolina track and field sprints and hurdles coach Curtis Frye, among others.

“We don’t want to focus on competition but enrichment,” says Kathy Jackson, director of Junior Girls in Charleston.

The program, which holds a Launch Party 3-4 p.m. June 9 at the Charleston County Main Library at 68 Calhoun St., will culminate with an Olympic-style event Sept. 21-22 at Bishop England High School on Daniel Island.

Visit juniorgirlsdayout.wordpress.com

Reach David Quick at 937-5516 or dquick@postand courier.com.