When Sean, 16, was sent to Arrow Child and Family Ministries, officials reported that she was depressed and withdrawn. The teenager came from a broken Baltimore City home and was sent to the ministry for “stabilization” before release at a foster home.

But when she was introduced to a component of the ministry that included training for a 5k run with a group called Athletes Serving Athletes, she blossomed, said Ameous Lucas, a director at Arrow.

The athletes taught her and about 19 other young adults the art of running and maintaining a healthy diet, but most importantly, they gave her confidence.

“A lot of come from homeless backgrounds, broken homes and they have no support,” said Lucas. “They think the community looks at them like they are a blight on society. Here, they are competing, coming across that finish line with hundreds of people cheering them on. It’s a wonderful experience.”

Sean, whose last name cannot be released due to confidentiality regulations, ran in the Y of Central Maryland’s 5k Turkey Trot competition on Thanksgiving Day. Lucas says she did not compete against other runners—only herself—in a test of endurance and self-motivation.

The three-pronged partnership between Arrow Ministries, Athletes Serving Athletes and the Maryland Y is instilling pride in foster children like Sean and backing them with community support, Lucas said.

Arrow, which specializes in foster care, diagnostic services, transitional living and non-public schooling, partnered with the non-profit ASA in what was intended to be a six-week training stint last fall.

An enthusiastic response from the children has brought ASA Executive Director David Slomkowski and his staff back every week for the last year to continue the project.

His group, which sprouted from a fitness program for students at William S. Baer School for the disabled, now trains children of all physical abilities at varying institutions including Arrow Ministries.

ASA helps the Arrow teens understand how physical fitness influences their lives spiritually and emotionally. They also host races for the trainees every other month and encourage them to participate in the Turkey Trot every year.

Slomkowski says it’s not only about ensuring the young runners learn perfect form or develop the fastest running time. “I want them to feel loved, appreciated and accepted,” he said.

His “heart bleeds” for the foster children and the tough situations they go through, he added, but he hopes “that one thing they will walk away with in addition to knowing the importance of exercise and nutrition, is that they had encouragement and positive feedback.”

“What we have (in the partnership) is beautiful,” he said. “It takes collaborations like this to make our community stronger.”

At Arrow, the training program has become somewhat of a rite of passage.

Lucas says it furthers the ministry’s mission “to create positive outcomes for our children and provide services for children to live whole, meaningful lives.”

After training for about eight weeks, bonding with colleagues and growing as a person, Sean was allowed to move to a foster home, said Lucas.

“The program has had a tremendous impact on her,” he said. “She has taken all the positive things she learned from Athletes Serving Athletes and she is one of our success stories.”

 

Shernay Williams

Special to the AFRO