New running club for Austin youth set to start

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Turning 50 is a big deal. For most people it involves dinner with their family, maybe even a party. For Tim Hoekstra, it involved raising $58,000 for charity, running 50 miles (including the 2009 Chicago Marathon), and taking the first steps in creating a new running and mentoring club for children in Austin.

Hoekstra, a River Forest resident and pastor of the Suburban Life Community Christian Reformed Church in Darien, has been running marathons since 2005. Each year he would raise around $5,000 for Team World Vision, a charity that does work in Africa, but felt that he would like to focus more on giving locally.

He has a long-standing connection with the West Side through his church’s interactions with the Austin Corinthian Baptist Church, 823 S. Cicero Ave., and says that while there is great need in the community, the relationships he has developed with local leaders make him to want to work in Austin.

This desire to give locally gave birth to the idea for a running and mentoring club. In the process of creating the club, Hoekstra teamed up with Olympian Ryan Hall, who finished 10th in marathon at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and his wife, Sarah, to create the “Hall Steps Running Mentoring Club.”

Hoekstra’s goal for the club’s first year is to pair 10 to 20 children from Austin with a mentor from Austin or the surrounding communities. The group will meet every Saturday morning in Columbus Park, 500 S.Central Ave., for a group run beginning April 24 at 9 a.m.

Aside from the weekly run, Hoekstra says the mentors will be making contact at least two other times per week with their mentee to help provide support or advice in other areas of life besides running.

“This program is for health and for hope,” said Hoekstra, who hopes each mentor/child connection can eventually grow into a permanent, positive relationship.

Michael Chitwood, the national director of Team World Vision who has been involved with this project from the beginning, says he hopes the program can connect people from different communities who might not otherwise meet.

“The idea is to first develop something truly life changing for people here in Chicago,” Chitwood said. “Eventually, we hope to develop such a model that we can share it with other cities across the country.”

Rev. Phil Hilliard, pastor of Austin Corinthian Baptist Church, says he thinks the running club could be a great influence in these young children’s lives.

“Often times, [children in Austin] don’t have a male figure. Often times, their role models are negative,” said Hilliard. But he believes the running mentoring club will help provide children with a positive role model who can guide them from bad decisions.

The Hall Steps Running Mentoring Club is free to any adult or child 11 years old or older. To sign up, visit the Hall Steps Foundation web site, e-mail Hoekstra at or call (630) 247-1581.

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