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Denise Nightingale


Kids Run the Nation Saginaw

224 N. Elm
Saginaw, Michigan 48602
Denise Nightingale has been running for most of her life. Her two young sons love to run too, but until March, they had no running club. That’s when the at-home mom took it upon herself to launch one at Saginaw’s Handley Elementary School. Her goal was to introduce 25 students to the sport with a Kids Run the Nation Saginaw pilot. A whopping 44 kids signed on and are running their hearts out.
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
Kids Run the Nation Saginaw Program Coordinator Denise Nightingale: Being a leader is hard work, and it’s something I don't take lightly. I've been given a great opportunity to impact children in our community. 
From the beginning, I have tried to be very consistent, with a well laid-out plan; I’m doing this not only for implementation, but for sustainability. My kids are growing, and someday I’ll leave, but I want this program to live on after that, so every step I take is for the benefit of the future of this program.
I hope that kids will put down the cell phone or pass up sitting in front of a computer or an iPad to go outside to run or jog with a parent or a sibling.

I am trying to help set precedence for community improvement and for collaboration among the organizations (both from the private and the nonprofit sector) that can support us and help give kids the opportunity to make physical activity a permanent part of their life.
I want to make a difference to hundreds of kids, and I think that if I do this thoughtfully and methodically, the program will continue long after I’m gone.
Personally, I also want my two boys to see their parents get involved in our community. This leadership role gives me the chance to do that.
What is your dream for kids who are participating in Kids Run the Nation in Saginaw and in chapters all over the country?
It’s my hope that all of the children in our program (and other chapters) end up loving running and racing after the 10 weeks are over -- that they stay excited and understand the benefits of physical activity, good nutrition, and a healthy lifestyle. 
I hope that kids will put down the cell phone or pass up sitting in front of a computer or an iPad to go outside to run or jog with a parent or a sibling. Running is a good, basic skill, and it’s a foundation that kids will need for other sports. 

Racing is unique in the fact that anyone can do it. At a race, you’ll see overweight people, fit people, and people in wheelchairs participating. Men and women, old folks and young folks, black people and white people all running together with the same goal: to finish. 

Running is for everyone. I dream that all of these kids will keep running.
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
I think there should be a dramatic increase in funding opportunities for youth programs. 
...what I have always loved about running is that it's the most accessible form of exercise there is. 
People like me see a need in their community and they work hard to organize and provide services. They have good intentions, but they run into sustainability issues because of lack of funding. 
Even the greatest, most organized and effective program leaders face this; there is too much competition for the little pot of money that’s available. Somehow, we have to make all youth services and programming a priority in our communities, and reinforce the fact that many of them, just like public food assistance and Medicaid, become a part of the safety net that exists in our society for children who are at-risk.
How do you know you’re making progress?
With the kids, it’s been different every week. This week, one of them asked me, "Can we run now?”  If just one child gets that excited about learning and wants to try out new running skills, I’m happy. Next week, I hope I’ll touch at least one more in one way or another. And another the next week.  
Also, interest is picking up. That’s really exciting, because other schools in this area are already making efforts to implement their own version of this running program. We’re getting calls from schools in and around Saginaw for information, too, because they’ve heard about our Kids Run the Nation program from parents and teachers -- even their students. They want to know how we got this off the ground and how they can do the same thing. We’ve only been running since March, so that’s good progress, too. 
What are you most proud of?
I'm most proud of the fact that I saw a need in my community and was given the opportunity to address it. I am working hard to fulfill it. I see myself as a local ambassador of sorts for Kids Run the Nation -- someone who was willing to implement a great program. I came into this with the hope that it would have a domino effect and that other schools would see how children in our community benefit from having a running club.
That’s happening much sooner than I expected, and I’m really proud that the kids keep coming back. We haven’t lost anyone. They come back, week after week, because they really want to run.
What perceptions, messages, or historical influences create the most significant barriers to engaging Michigan citizens in helping kids learn the importance of exercise, fitness and good nutrition?
Some people perceive running is an elitist sport. I think there is some truth to it, at least in marathons, because I see a great majority of white, higher income males running marathons. 
Outside of that, what I have always loved about running is that it’s the most accessible form of exercise there is. You need comfortable shoes, loose clothing and pavement -- that's it. Anyone can do run. Today, many communities offer races to raise money for a cause and everyone can join. 
Some say that running is not good for your joints, and that is a barrier, even though it’s true to some degree. I get pain in my legs, especially in my knees, but people need to know that the positives far outweigh the negatives when it comes to running and jogging. Positives like cardiovascular benefits, burning calories, and increased lung capacity. Overall, it’s the best exercise you can do.
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