By Dylan Goforth
Phoenix Staff Writer
It’s just after 6 p.m. at Civitan Park, and aside from a few scattered lightposts, it’s nearly pitch black. A handful of people are walking their dogs near the park’s sidewalk trail.
And every few minutes, out of the darkness, a blur whizzes by.
Larry Sanders is getting his miles in.
Sanders is one of 10 youths taking part in Muskogee Juvenile Services’ Run for Pride program, which is designed to give juveniles an alternative to probation.
“If they complete the running program, the district court will waive their fees,” Greg Lee said. Lee is a case specialist for Muskogee Juvenile Services.
The 14-week training program culminates Saturday in a 5K and 10K race, which will double as a sort of final exam for the kids and a fundraiser for next year’s edition.
“All the proceeds we get from this race will be put right back into the program,” Lee said. “It’s such a positive program, and we’re trying to expand it. We’ve seen so much growth out of the kids involved in it that we want to make it bigger. Make it better.”
The program came into being, Lee said, after a teenager in care of Muskogee Juvenile Services got into a fight with his mother. Instead of the usual process of discipline, Lee said they took him to the park and ran with him.
“We could tell right away he liked it,” Lee said. “He was open, he was communicating with us, talking to us.”
Lee said he believed looking at adults in a different light played a part in the teen’s newfound communication skills.
“He could see it was a challenge for us,” Lee said. “He could see adults struggling with this just like he might struggle with something. There was a common ground that brought everyone together.”
So the program was born. Based on a similar Bartlesville program called Run the Streets, Lee hopes to see Muskogee’s edition progress as well as its sister program has.
Brian Williams, Run the Streets program developer, said they’ve seen their numbers increase from just more than a dozen kids in 2009 to more than 70 this year.
“Fifty of those kids will finish the program,” Williams said. The group is currently gearing up for the Route 66 half marathon. “And more importantly, recidivism rates among those in the program are very low.”
Williams said before the program, about 33 percent of kids in the juvenile program tested positive for drugs or alcohol while on probation. Only 5 percent of the kids in the Run the Streets program have tested positive.
“Our overall recidivism rates are low, too,” Williams said. “About 88 percent of the kids in the program don’t get in trouble again after they’ve completed it. And many who’ve completed the program return and keep running.”
Lee said he’s seen the kids in Muskogee’s program grow tremendously even though it’s in its infancy.
“You can see them getting more confidence in themselves as they get better and get stronger,” Lee said. “And they get healthier and you can tell they like that.”
Parents say they enjoy the program as well, Lee said.
“We’ve had great reports from parents who’ve said their kids’ behavior is improving,” Lee said.
In order for Run for Pride to grow, Lee said, it needs more mentors.
“If we have more kids join, we’re going to need more mentors,” Lee said. “It’s the next step for us. We’d like to see the program expand greatly, but we have to have more people involved.”
Williams said Bartlesville’s program has had mentor participation from not just citizens, but also judges and assistant district attorneys. But in the end, Lee said, anyone can make a difference.
“This is something where the community can really come together and make a difference,” Lee said. “If you have a desire to help the community and to help these kids, you can make a big difference this way. This is a way we can change Muskogee for the better.”
Reach Dylan Goforth at (918) 684-2903 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
WHAT: Run for Pride 5K and 10K.
WHERE: Love-Hatbox Sports Complex.
WHEN: Saturday. Day of race registration begins at 7:30 a.m. Race begins at 9 a.m.
COST: $15 for the 5K, $20 for the 10K.
INFORMATION: (918) 816-9004.
You can help
If you’re interested in being a mentor for future seasons of Run the Pride, a program giving at-risk Muskogee youth an alternative to probation, call Muskogee Juvenile Services at (918) 682-7755.