From retail and restaurants to tech and media, contractors to coworking spaces, large, small, and everything in between, a diverse array of businesses call Alexandria home. In our blog series, Growing in Alexandria, we sit down to talk with businesses around the City to learn more about who they are, what they do, and why they love it here. Have an idea for a business in Alexandria to talk to? Email us!
We are so lucky in Alexandria to have so many incredible businesses and organizations that our blog list runneth over! That means that instead of featuring one business a month, we’ll be featuring multiple. Next up is RunningBrooke, an Alexandria non-profit organization dedicated to getting Alexandria’s children physically active to spark happier, healthier, learning-ready students. We met with RunningBrooke Founder Brooke Sydnor Curran to learn more.
AEDP: To get us started, can you please tell us about RunningBrooke?
Brooke: RunningBrooke is all about getting kids physical active across Alexandria. I believe it in so much based on what physical activity has done for me personally over the course of my life. I started this organization ten years ago; our team through its Move2Learn programs has gotten tens of thousands of kids active and moving in four different ways.
First, we work directly with teachers and schools. We help them think about creative ways to get the children physically active in the classroom and during transition times to specifically spark focus and learning. We have seen that physical activity builds community in the classroom and makes for a happier and healthier and more cohesive classroom community.
Second, we build partnerships to bring before, during and after school programs directly to schools. We support a variety of sports like running, soccer and dance.
Third, we fund and build playgrounds around the city in underserved communities. We are just about to open our third playground in mid-September. We focus on neighborhoods that have a lot of children and no playground space, serving families and bringing everyone outside and active together.
Fourth, we are involved in high-level policy making. One way we do this is through our Move2Learn Summits where we invite nationally recognized speakers to bring the science and research on the benefits of physical activity to life. The Move2Learn Summit attracts thought leaders from across our community; they leave with hands-on tools to make immediate changes within their schools and programs.
AEDP: How did you get started?
Brooke: People assume I have always been a big runner but truthfully it was something I had to learn to do. I was a pack-a-day smoker in high school and college. I started running when I was a mother of three young girls in order to just get out of the house. After 9/11, I realized that I had to get started on my life list of to-dos right away! Running a marathon was a large goal on this list, but doable. I have now run 135 marathons, at least one on every continent, all 50 states, and the 6 world marathon majors, along with a couple of IRON(WO)MANs. I am currently training for a 100-mile trail run.
Initially, running gave me something of my own, my thing – and made me a much happier (and healthier). Running brings me focus and something I could call my own. Once I hit all my personal marathon goals, I knew I was in a position to help others so they too could receive the benefits of physical activity.
A lot of children in Alexandria live in apartment buildings and they do not have a lot of the things that we take for granted. For all of these reasons, I founded RunningBrooke ten years ago. We have invested nearly $2 million in the city. We are a smaller nonprofit that is looking to grow. It excites us to see the change in behaviors from kids that make an effort to be active more often during the day. We are not prescriptive in what has to be done, but we equip the teachers with a variety of ideas on how to add activity to the day. For example, if the teacher enjoys dancing, they should bring that into the classroom. We have also designed a fitness cube that students roll and participate in the whatever activity it lands on. Other toolkit items include a timer, fitness calendar, poster and games.
AEDP: Running a non-profit is not exactly like running a for-profit business; they come with a different set of challenges. What would you say your biggest challenge is?
Brooke: As a nonprofit, there is pressure to have as little overhead as possible. I absolutely get that and live by that; we need to get the funding to the kids and be the best possible stewards to our donors. On the flip side, that means we work on a shoestring budget and often cannot pay our staff what they deserve.
Like any for-profit businesses, nonprofits need to have in-office legs and structure work well. I’d like folks to rethink that a little bit and reconsider the notion that nonprofits should have little to no overhead. After all, nonprofit work has a direct economic impact and plays a huge role benefiting the community.
AEDP: On the flip side of that, running a non-profit also comes with a lot of positives. What is the most rewarding aspect of running RunningBrooke?
Brooke: I get to do what I love every day. Seeing the happy faces of the kids and hearing positive stories from administrators and teachers is so rewarding. It is a joy to build partnerships across our city and to meet and work with so many great people!
AEDP: What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve received?
Brooke: Running has taught me everything I need to know. My mantra is “light and loose.” It reminds me to relax into hardship and run face-first into fear. I have found that once you face fear and have a name for it, it becomes manageable.
Running has also taught me about control and restraint, kind of a start slow and finish fast approach, which leads to focus, grit and determination. I suffered a brain aneurysm in March 2018 and spent a month in the hospital and survived multiple brain surgeries to stop the bleeding. I am lucky to be alive. My neurologists believed that part of the secret sauce that led to my survival and full recovery was my fitness at the time of the aneurysm. Because I was so healthy, I was in a spot where nothing else went wrong. When I got out of the hospital, 30 pounds lighter, I had to relearn how to walk and run. I then challenged myself to run five marathons in five days in five different states embracing the fear.
To learn more about RunningBrooke, please visit their website.