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A Juvenile Court Worker’s Experience Mentoring Teens in a Running Program

Jessica Waltz knows the therapeutic benefits of a simple run.


“It’s a wonderful outlet for frustrations, anger, sadness, depression, and many more emotions,” she said. “Running has a way of clearing your head and helping you think through situations.”

So, blending the Still I Run Starting Line Scholarship Program with her work with the Pierce County Juvenile Court System was an easy call. Indeed, Waltz first got involved in 2021 and eagerly signed back up for the 2022 season.


Why?


“I believe that if we were able to encourage more young people to have a healthy outlet, like running, track, cross country, theater, woodshop, and more, this would help them stay on a positive track,” she said.





The Starting Line Scholarship- Teen Edition:


Jessica has seen firsthand the results from the Still I Run partnership.


“We had two teens that were a part of the program last summer that went on to participate in cross country and track this school year because of the work we put in last summer with Still I Run,” she said with a smile.


That’s the whole idea behind the Still I Run Starting Line Scholarship Program. It’s normally year-round with applicants accepted on a quarterly basis and given shoes, running clothes, Still I Run swag, a coach, a 10-12 week training plan, and entry into a 5K or 10K.


“The idea is we help that person overcome any barriers they may have when it comes to running for mental health,” said Still I Run founder and president Sasha Wolff.

In the partnership with the Pierce County Juvenile Court System, which Wolff hopes to expand in the future to other juvenile court systems, the court system identifies five teens they think would benefit from the Still I Run program and also finds a mentor who works at the court to pair up with the teen.


Each teen got all of the same gear as a participant in the regular Starting Line Scholarship program and a coach provided one plan for a 5K that the mentors and teens would run together (the Pierce County participants all ran the Chase the Rainbow 5K).


How the Program Worked:


At the beginning of each week, Ashley Larson, the team coach, would send out what training would look like for that week.


Each Tuesday, the mentors would pick up the teens, and they’d all do the group run together that was part of that week’s training plan.


Later that day, Larson, Wolff, the teens and the mentors would all meet via Zoom to talk about and answer any questions about training, go over some mental health education and/or share an inspirational video.


“The purpose of the Zoom meetings was to connect Still I Run with the teens and make the connection between running and mental health,” Wolff said. “And occasionally, we’d have some guest speakers join us to talk to the kids about how running for mental health has helped them.”


Waltz appreciated the Zoom de-briefs but said attendance was sometimes tough to come by.

“Sasha always provided us with wonderful information and tools both for running and for how to better manage our mental health,” she said. “The kids who attend got a lot out of the talks, so that’s a place where we need to do more to get them to attend.”



The Joy of Mentoring Teens:


Waltz has been with the Juvenile Court system for three years and said she wasn’t sure what she was getting herself into when she considered being a Still I Run mentor.


“But when she looked at the program, the goals, and Still I Run in general, it was an obvious ‘yes,’” she said. “I was happy to be a part of the program.”


She added that getting to know five brand-new runners was a joy.


“I don’t think that any of them were particularly excited about the program in the beginning,” she said. “Things started off slow for the group, but none of them complained. As the weeks went on, their endurance improved, and they opened up more with the mentors.”

The group runs were also a lot of fun, Waltz said.


“They all got really competitive at times which was awesome to watch,” she said. “The closer we got to our goal, the ‘Chase the Rainbow Run,’ the teens had become friends, their moods were lighter, and you could tell that they all were very invested in running.”


As an added bonus, three of the five finished in the top 5 of their age group!


But for Waltz, all five were winners, and the experience, she added, was a win for her too.

“It was a great opportunity,” she said.




If you or someone you know would benefit from the Starting Line Scholarship, we invite you to check it out at our website here! Applications are selected on a rolling basis!


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By Phil de Haan

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