Lured in by the three “Ts”—tablets, texting and television—children frequently don’t engage in exercise. And, if the adults in their lives don’t model healthy behaviors, children are even more likely to battle chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes. That’s why Alicia Gonzalez, executive director of Chicago Run, and Paul Lambert, a wealth management executive at Bank of America Merrill Lynch are working to forge a new reality. Through Chicago Run programs, they’re introducing Chicago school children to the joy of running and building connections between them, their parents and local communities.
Chicago Run is a nonprofit organization that promotes the health and wellness of Chicago children through innovative youth running programs. Founded in 2007, the organization implements free physical activity programs in 45 Chicago Public Schools during the school year, serving more than 13,000 students. Nearly 90 percent of the children it serves qualify for free or reduced price lunch, and most live in communities where outdoor activity is limited by safety and security issues. Gonzalez is the first executive director of Chicago Run and Lambert is a member of its Board of Directors.
Helping Families and Runners
Gonzalez remembers vividly the day she knew the program was working. “I live in one of the neighborhoods we serve. One day three years ago, I walked outside of my home and saw two little kids with their parents running in the park with their Chicago Run backpacks and water bottles,” she said. “I saw that the dream was coming true because it was summertime, they didn’t need to be running, and they were running with their parents.”
Bank of America was an early financial supporter of Chicago Run. Its donation enabled the organization to expand its programming to five additional schools. The bank is currently focused on growing the organization’s volunteer base. Chicago Run volunteers are in charge of the aid station at mile 20 of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, where fatigued runners will stop for a boost of energy and the organization will help to boost their morale. This positive introduction to the organization, the bank hopes, will inspire runners to get involved.
Sharing the Joy of Running
It was fellow executives at Bank of America Merrill Lynch who encouraged Lambert to get involved with Chicago Run. A known runner, he and his wife passed their love of running onto their three children. “They now think of running as a healthy activity that they’re just going to do,” said Lambert. “My hope is that I can create that same experience for children throughout Chicago. We as an organization can impact thousands of youngsters.”