A key element of the Navigator mission is to help foster healthy community. One of the ways we do this is by getting involved in local events and initiatives, such as the Running and Reading program. This program, developed by Start2Finish, runs in local, inner-city elementary schools across the country after school. The aim is to improve participants’ literacy and fitness levels in order to set them on the path towards a brighter, more successful future.
Members of Navigator university student groups volunteer in the Running and Reading program as coaches. While their job is focused on helping the children improve their running endurance and literacy, they also serve as role models to show the kids how to live well. They have been able to positively influence the lives of these children, but once the children graduate and move on, how can the coaches remain connected to them?
Kevin Jolly has been one of the volunteer directors for the Running and Reading program in Halifax for the past six years. He too asked this question. “It’s just grades three to six. You help them for a few years and it’s really fantastic, then you say, ‘Well, good luck, hopefully you’ll make it in life.’ I just really wanted to stay connected and involved and help other people stay connected to the same kids.”
His solution to this predicament came in the form of a program aimed at continuing the Running and Reading relationships into junior high. Kevin’s motivation for launching this comes from his passion to positively impact the lives of children and youth in Halifax’s inner city. “Many live in violent communities, are missing fathers, come from dysfunctional families and need to be connected to adults who can help them develop into healthy young people who are discovering their gifts, talents and potential all for the benefit of others.”
The program, still in its infancy, launched this past school year over a four-week period in both the fall and winter semesters. Kevin and the principal of the junior high school selected eight children they felt would benefit most from this experience. Most of the children selected had already passed through the Running and Reading program.
The program took place at Dalhousie University, where the students played badminton, soccer baseball and basketball with members of the men’s and women’s varsity basketball teams. They also went on tours of the oceanography department and anatomy lab.
In both of these areas, the young students had the opportunity to connect with six upper-year university students Kevin recruited from the medical school and varsity athletics. “It’s great to create a space for university students to connect to the kids, because the kids honestly need that. They need someone who’s a bit older, who’s interested in them and can give them some guidance and direction and inspire them and challenge them.”
Kevin says the prospects for running the program next year look good, and that he’s also looking to expand it. “I had more kids want to participate in the program than I was willing to take [for the pilot], so I had to turn some of them down. And I had other students who wanted to volunteer, but I didn’t need that many volunteers so I turned them down. That, for me, was a good reason to continue it.”
The Navigators of Canada are always looking for new and engaging ways to connect with the communities we’re a part of. We’re excited to see how this program turns out and we wish Kevin and his volunteers all the best as they work with these kids to help them realize their potential.