Since its founding in 2004, non-profit Students Run Philly Style (SRPS) has focused on using distance running to mentor young people between the ages of 12 and 18. Running leaders help students work toward goals like racing the Broad Street Run or the Philadelphia Marathon, but also mentor the kids in other areas of their lives as well, helping them build the resilience to face adversity and the confidence to go for their dreams.
This Saturday, July 30th, SRPS is switching things up. The students and their running leaders are racing to Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) and Temple University to learn about the college opportunities in their own backyard, visit with SRPS college alumni while simultaneously training for the Philadelphia Marathon and Half Marathon in November.
"We see a lot of impact, academic, socioemotional, but the biggest thing is the relationship with the mentors," Andrew Kucer, executive director of Students Run Philly Style told Philly.com. "They will always go to the mentor first. That is what changes these students' lives; we know it works and we just want to make our organization bigger so more kids can participate."
For Kucer, the college race series is a natural extension of what they already do.
"We were looking at our model, helping kids set a goal and get them the support they need to get from A to B, and we wanted to focus on the areas where we are making the most impact like college planning," Kucer said.
"Having alumni from our program talk to the students about their experiences really meshes with our mission and each college race will help them build up their mileage for the Philly Marathon."
On Saturday, the students and their running leaders will start at the Municipal Services Building at 15th and JFK Boulevard at 8 a.m. and then run three miles to Temple University where they will meet alumni and talk with college admissions staff. From there they will run two more miles to CCP's Mint building where they will meet with more alumni.
In following two installments, SRPS will race to St. Joseph's University, University of Pennsylvania, University of the Sciences and also across the bridge to Rutgers University.
Kucer added that the admission and community outreach offices at participating colleges have really embraced this event, offering to man water stops, cheer the students on and answer questions.
Meet The Runners
Joey Marrero, 15, is a student at Mariana Bracetti Academy Charter School. Marrero is in his first year with the program, but already feels like it has made a big impact on his life.
When Marrero was younger, he suffered from heart problems, but he finds that running has helped him control it better. Once he graduates high school, he plan to major in Technology and Design.
"After running, I feel happier, more refreshed and I can really talk to my mentor if I run into problems," Marrero said. "Meeting new people is the best part."
Andres Vasquez, 15, also a student at Mariana Bracetti, became involved last year because his math teacher was a running leader. He would like to major in Computer Science.
"I feel like I am accomplishing something when I receive a medal at the end of the race," Vasquez said.
Kyla Arroyo, 16, another Mariana Bracetti student, joined the program last spring and ran the Broad Street Run with SRPS. Arroyo loves how it helps her achieve her goals and stay active. She hopes to attend the University of Pennsylvania and become a veterinarian and marine biologist.
Arroyo said that running has made her more confident and has taught her the importance of teamwork and motivating others to do well.
The students' running leader, Liz Coda, of Fishtown, will also be participating in the college races.
"A lot of the students come from families where no one has gone to college before," Coda said. "We want them to see that getting a college education is a very real possibility for them."
Coda, a competitive runner since high school, has been volunteering with SRPS since 2014. At the time, she was in her first year of teaching and wanted to get more involved with the kids in school, but she never expected to gain so much from the experience. Although no longer a teacher, Coda still enjoys being a running leader.
"I have gotten very close to my students and have seen firsthand the positive impact Students Run Philly Style has on their lives," Coda said. "It lifts them up and provides a lot of opportunities."
When students push themselves physically, Coda has seen that exertion help them to open up.
"They realize if they can reach their running goals then they can reach the goals in other parts of their lives as well," Coda said.
The full Race to College series schedule is as follows:
CCP – Temple (3-5 mile run)
Saturday, July 30, 8 a.m.
Start: Dilworth Plaza, 1500 JFK Boulevard
End: Temple University or return to Dilworth Plaza
Rutgers, Camden, NJ (5-7 mile run)
Saturday, August 6, 8 a.m
Start and end: Franklin Square, 6th and Race Streets
St. Joseph's - Drexel - U of Penn - U of Sciences (6-8 mile run)
Saturday, August 13, 8 a.m.
Start: St. Joseph's University
End: Penn Park, 31st and Chestnut Streets