With its red brick mills vacant and its tax base shrinking, Woonsocket, R.I., faced few good choices when it came to slashing school budgets. Among the casualties of recession and retrenchment was the middle school cross-country and track program that had once been a source of community pride.
But a nonprofit called New England Distance stepped into that void, connecting some of the nation’s best runners with local students itching to run. A community-based distance running organization, its founder Nich Haber and elite athlete Katrina Spratford have worked in partnership with Woonsocket Middle School to foster adequate opportunities in cross country and track.
The group, whose board includes U.S. Olympian Molly Huddle, provides housing and training for top-notch post-collegiate athletes, who in turn provide coaching and mentorship for students in Woonsocket and Providence, R.I.
And Woonsocket is not the only community being affected by a lack of adequate funding. The past 10 years have seen an ever-growing disappearance of men’s collegiate running programs. At the middle and high school level physical education and after-school athletic programs have been on the decline across the nation, causing people to ask who picks up the slack.
Work has been done in the Woonsocket community with the help of NE Distance to reestablish this missing segment to the daily school days of thousands of children.
So here in the smallest state, NE Distance is making a big difference, providing a model for the rest of the nation.