Thunder Bay Team Unbreakable Growing Stronger 7 Years Later

The Thunder Bay Team Unbreakable is an enthusiastic and hearty bunch, having already started their spring run program before most other runners have pulled their shoes from their closet in the much milder Toronto area!

Sporting their own Team Unbreakable shirts and equipped with the Unbreakable Run Program log books, the Thunder Bay group is off and running! “We have a great group of kids and volunteers again this year.” says Diana Mellerup, volunteer coach and a Manager at the Children’s Aid Society of the District of Thunder Bay.  “Our group’s goal event is the Thunder Bay Metre Eaters’ June Classic 5k Race on June 1st, and we know we’ll be fielding a great group of runners at it”.

Team Unbreakable’s northernmost program has continued to thrive since a presentation to a small group of therapists at Lakehead University seven years ago from Dan McGann whose successful run-therapy program at Trillium Health Partners Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga had already been underway for several years prior.  His presentation resulted in the creation of the program in Thunder Bay, spearheaded by then CAS Children’s Services worker Jeanette Kelly.  Team Unbreakable Thunder Bay, with participants aged 10 to 18, started small but grew quickly and in recent years has fielded up to 55 participants with support from about 25 volunteer coaches, run-buddies and caring adults.  The group meets every Tuesday and Thursday with the youth encouraged to put in a training run on their own on the weekends.

“From the vision, enthusiasm and drive of one individual-namely Jeanette Kelly-and support and dedication of volunteers, the program blossomed” said Children’s Aid Society Manager of Volunteers, Charmaine Cades.  “It was difficult in the beginning, there was no manual on how to set up a community Unbreakable Run Program. But with key individuals hard work and dedication things took shape such as partnering with the city, learning to write grant proposals, and getting other agencies on board and offering support.”

Seven year veteran volunteer coach and Team Unbreakable executive committee member, Esme French says “Now that the program has been running J for 7 years, we can really see how it helps so many of our community youth gain confidence, feel better, improve their overall health & mood and really get into the benefits of running.  Our annual final survey reflects this with incredible feedback from caregivers as well as the youth themselves- some of whom return as junior coaches the following year.”

The program is now becoming well known and supported by the community.  With the annual monetary support of the Fort William Rotary, Canadian Tire Jump Start, Port Arthur Rotary and Thunder Bay Children’s Aid Foundation (https://www.thunderbaycaf.ca/) and ongoing efforts to raise funds, money is raised each year to provide running shoes for those in need, wicking t-shirts, post run snacks, registration costs for the 5k race, and celebration graduation banquet for the participants.  Last year a donation from 100 People Who Care Thunder Bay, allowed us to buy run vests, whistles and small graduation gifts for each runner.  The success is based on support by the caregivers/caring adults, volunteers and the community.  People are passionate about this program and see value and the connection between fitness and mental health.  With so many dedicated volunteers and coaches, the program has become so efficient for example with online registration that administrative volunteers helped to make happen.

Brad Bain, Executive Director of the Thunder Bay Children’s Aid Society and volunteer run coach for the past two seasons says, “All the participants get lots of individual attention through the committed volunteers who support this program, making it such a success”.

“I’m really impressed by what the group in Thunder Bay is doing.  They’re rallying community support, innovating, and going above and beyond by doing things like including family members and hosting a graduation party.  This is a great model for other communities in Ontario or elsewhere across the country,” says Program Coordinator Nils Blondon.

For information about Team Unbreakable Thunder Bay Program visit https://www.facebook.com/Thunderbayteamunbreakable

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