by Kylie Blanchard
The mission of Team Kaizen is to inspire youth to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based running program. Since the program’s start in January, a team of volunteers has been working with Bismarck-Mandan youth to build a healthy fitness routine, while also instilling strong character traits and healthy lifestyle choices.
The idea for Team Kaizen blossomed in a conversation between long-time running friends. “A group that runs together has a lot of time to do some talking,” says Julie Bosch, a Team Kaizen founding member and volunteer.
She says the group was discussing ways to give back to the community and they decided to combine their love of running with community outreach. “We thought, ‘what a better way to give back than to pass on our love of running’, ” says Bosch.
Additional discussion led to the group deciding to reach out to kids in the community that couldn’t do school sports or needed extra encouragement to join a team. Through a running group connection to Prevent Child Abuse North Dakota (PCAND) and additional phone calls to social service agencies like Charles Hall and Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch, Team Kaizen was formed.
“I think every one of us would tell you running has given us so much—fitness, adventure, wellness, social connection, and a college education,” says Marnie Walth, also a Team Kaizen founding member and volunteer. “That is just a natural process to want to give that back to a group of kids who could benefit in the same way.”
The group is now led by eight volunteer coordinators and long-time runners that include Bosch, Walth, Leslie Brunette, Janelle Olson, Kathy Lein, Lori Klabunde, Melanie Carvell, and Lynn Beiswanger. “I give so much credit to the volunteers that are doing this,” says Bosch. “They are busy people who have their hands in a ton of other activities as well.”
“Kaizen” is a Japanese phrase that means “good change,” and the word can describe the process in which small, continuous improvements lead to big results. Through fitness training supported by education, the goal of Team Kaizen is to encourage participants to achieve significant change.
Team Kaizen meets in 10-week sessions, with participants taking part in training programs adapted to their fitness level. The group meets on Monday evenings at 6 p.m. for one hour, which includes a brief presentation on a running-related topic and 30-40 minutes of stretching and running. The group meets throughout the community at different facilities, trails and parks. “We take the kids out into the community and run by other activities so they can see the other opportunities out there,” says Bosch.
The team’s first session was completed in April with nine individuals completing a 5k race, and a second session had five participants complete a 5K race in August. Bosch says over the course of a session, participants experience improved health and self-esteem, a more positive outlook, and learn goal setting. In addition, it allows individuals to come together to talk and share experiences.
“We’ve had success with this program,” says Bosch. “We have some great individual stories and as a group we’ve seen some pretty awesome things happening.”
Michael, 18, was encouraged by his parole officer to join Team Kaizen and says it has provided a way to push himself through competition. “I hadn’t exercised much before this and they really try to get you to push yourself. It’s a really fun crew and they expect you to do your best.”
Michael says he is glad he became a part of Team Kaizen and challenges other to join. “You meet a lot of really cool people,” he notes. “I didn’t want to join, but I ended up liking it.”
Walth says the impact of the program has reached beyond her expectations. “For a new runner, something as simple as giving their best effort to get through the day’s workout can bring great satisfaction and pride. I love seeing the smiles and satisfaction in the kids’ eyes when they are able to push themselves to reach a goal. Long-term, that confidence and work ethic just might carry over into other areas of the child’s life.”
Savannah, 17, says Team Kaizen has helped her to make positive changes in her life. “You’ve got to want to make a change and then do it. I was going through some tough times and I needed an outlet for my anger. I decided to take everything that happened in my life and use it for exercise.”
She says she didn’t exercise much prior to joining Team Kaizen, but it didn’t take long to find enjoyment in running. “Since I’ve started, I love it. I feel better about myself,” says Savannah. “Team Kaizen keeps you active and it makes you happy. And it’s competition – if you like that, then here it is.”
Bosch says many of the team’s participants have experienced a positive progression in their training and outlook. “We try to get kids out of their comfort zone so they get that feeling of finishing something healthy and hard.”
Team Kaizen is supported by PCAND, and other community organizations including Bismarck Parks and Recreation, Sanford Health and St. Alexius Medical Center. “We have received a generous grant from Sanford Health, and if a youth shows commitment to the program, we are able to purchase their shoes, running gear and race entry fees,” notes Bosch.
She says the group is open to anyone with an interest in running, and team coordinators are hoping to expand participant and volunteer numbers, as well as community support, so Team Kaizen is able to meet more than once a week.
“I have been running for 30 years and this is the coolest thing I have done with my running,” says Bosch. “Somebody showing belief and acceptance in someone else can go a long way.”
For additional information on Team Kaizen’s participation, volunteer and community support opportunities, email TeamKaizenRunning@gmail.com.
Kylie Blanchard is a local writer