According to Statistics Canada, nearly 50% of people who don’t volunteer have never donated their time “because no one had asked them to, which suggests they might sign up to volunteer if they were approached the right way.” Time might be the biggest barrier to volunteering — read: not enough — but if people were more aware of aligned opportunities to help out, perhaps that wouldn’t be an issue to begin with. There are countless of organizations creating incredible philanthropic programs that appeal to different interests, Lane 6 being one of them.

Created by Canadian Running and supported by Nike, it’s a unique one-on-one  mentorship program for at-risk Toronto youth, aged 7-18. Earlier this year, both organizations put out an open call for potential mentors. It attracted over 40 individuals to the initial training session hosted by Nike’s premier youth coaching training partner, Up2Us Sports, a non-profit organization that uses sports and trained coaches to improve communities and inspire youth to achieve their potential.

It was one of the most inspirational and educational evenings I’ve ever been a part of. In a short couple of hours, we honed our interpersonal and empathic skills in order to learn how to encourage our mentees as effectively and attentively as possible. At the end of the day (and mentorship), we want to ensure the children know they matter and we care.

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Already three weeks (for me, one shift) in and it’s amazing to see the impact Lane 6 has had on not only the kids, but the mentors as well.  With a passion for running, supporting youth and philanthropic causes, all the volunteers are just as grateful to be at the Central Tech track Saturday mornings as the kids are.

And what does a typical morning look like? Well, it starts with a mentor meeting that familiarizes everyone with the objective of that day — be it speed, distance or whatever other running goal Canadian Running has set. From there, we wait for the kids to arrive, creating a cheer tunnel to give them an enthusiastic greeting.

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Once our leaders Joel Vosburg, Britt Scott and Nike Running Coach Brittany Moran remind the kids what they will be focusing on, the mentors and their mentees pair off to get them changed into their new running shoes. Right after that, they log their own goals into their personal Lane 6 journals before rejoining the group for a proper warmup.

And then it’s on! The first shift I was able to attend, we focused mainly on distance — although my little man Jalen was all about speed. He managed to not only log in the meters, he also did so in record time — giving me a run for my money. He also re-ignited my love of interval training. That was one of the things that stuck out the most to me afterwards, how much he inspired me.

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What I also loved witnessing, however, were the moments other mentors and mentees had in between the running portions (or even during). The casual conversations, the high fives and the overall companionship all came together to create a very supportive and motivational atmosphere. During our training, we were told to really pay attention to our kids during the down times. These were the crucial moments that could define their experience and shape them. The moments when they didn’t have anything to concentrate on. The moments when they could feel left out or discouraged or even just plain bored.

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Before we knew it, the session was done. There were snacks and water to be had, and a journal log to be finished. We were trained to make sure that at the end of every morning, we make our mentees feel accomplished and excited for the next Saturday. It’s hard not to. Even on my first cold and rainy shift, we were all in high spirits. So with a final cool down and cheer, we said our “see you soons.”

Although it’s only a short 8-week program, I can’t wait to recap the pilot program. I honestly already see the strong connection with community Lane 6 is creating. Canadian Running and Nike put out a call to actin and so many rallied. It will be interesting to see how it grows.

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