Like many fifth graders, Willis is a boy of few words. What do you like best about Feet First? "Running." How has Feet First helped you? "I run faster." What would you tell your friends about Feet First? "To do it." But then you watch Willis run and you see the joy. Willis is one of the fastest runners at Everett Elementary School, one of the three Feet First running clubs operated by Lincoln Parks and Recreation's F Street Community Center. Mary Johnson, Learning Center Supervisor at F Street, was inspired by a Philadelphia program that involved homeless people in running. As an avid runner herself, Mary knows the physical and mental benefits of running, and the sense of control it can give. She wanted that for the people who use F Street, located in the part of Lincoln with one of the highest childhood obesity rates. A Spark! Grant from the Community Health Endowment of Lincoln got Feet First started in the fall of 2016. In it's first six months, Feet first served more that 50 youth and several adults and families.
And, it's working. A survey administered at the beginning of the program and again after the second session showed improvements in feelings of self-efficacy such as, "When I make plans, I am certain I can make them work."
Willis loves to finish first or tie with his friend, Tymar. But that doesn't mean his run is over. What happens when you finish first? "I go help the other kids. Cheer them on."
A few words that speak volumes about the power of running, of caring coaches, and of community members. And Feet First.
(Story by Community Health Endowment of Lincoln, 2017. Photography by Kathy Plunkett)