By Robb Murray
---- — MANKATO — A new running and character-building program from the Mankato Family YMCA is hoping to do for boys what the YWCA's Girls on the Run program has done for girls.
It will be called Stride, and this fall boys in grades three through five will have the opportunity to participate.
Mankato YMCA Director of Social Responsibility Cheryl Hamond said they plan to start the program small with just two sites. If it grows — and they think it will — they will expand it later.
One site will be the YMCA. The other site has yet to be determined but it will be somewhere on the east side of town. The YMCA is using funds from the Bremer Foundation grant it applied for. In that grant application it specified funds would used for east-side specific purposes.
The program was created by the YMCA of Brandywine Valley, Penn. Hamond and Director of Youth Development Margo Dietz traveled to Brandywine Valley to learn the program. They'll in turn train local staff and volunteers.
Hamond said the Brandywine program started when parents who were happy with the Girls on the Run program wondered whether a similar program could be developed for boys. In its promotional materials, the Brandywine Stride program's vision is:
• To provide a high-quality program where the focus is on fun and fitness.
• To increase the confidence of participants by helping them feel good about themselves and their abilities.
• To create an opportunity to share information about various topics to help them to reach a "whole person" excellence by being better individuals, students, team members, athletes and members of the community.
• To provide a valuable experience for our coaches with a program that will improve their lives and the lives of the participants.
• To improve the participants' fitness levels by training and preparing them to complete a 5K.
As of now, Stride will have a fall and spring session, each of which will be 10 weeks and end with a 5K race. It will meet twice weekly and focus on character building.
And while it will be similar to Girls on the Run in many ways — they may even have joint 5K races — there are key differences in the kind of help participants may need.
In a girls program, body image is a key focus point. With boys, Hamond says, one of the focus points is directing boys away from being constantly competitive with each other and instead being sources of encouragement for all.
Hamond runs the YMCA's mentoring programs and says the programs have many boys on a waiting list waiting for a mentor. It takes about a year to line a boy up with a mentor. This program, while it won't replace the mentoring, can help some of the same boys.
It's too soon to sign up for Stride, but anyone with questions can call the YMCA and ask for Hamond. It is expected to cost $125. For those who cannot afford it, the Y offers financial assistance.