Here we go…


This past week was crazy busy for our runners but we made it through and despite some late night packing we should be ready to go tomorrow morning.

One of those busy nights was at Breakthrough’s 10th Anniversary Awards Night last Friday, May 20th.  Breakthrough has been around for nearly 20 years but for the last 10 years, the Nettie Bailey Student Achievement Program has been servicing the youth and families of East Garfield Park. This event was celebrating that 10 years and the specific achievements of the youth in our programs from this 2010-2011 school year!

Attached are some pictures from the event where our runners proudly displayed their hard work and goals for the Africa Running Program.  They were even able to get 2 more World Vision Child Sponsors that night!

Anyways, tomorrow morning we leave for South Africa!  Back in January these 6 kids did not necessarily know what they were saying “yes” to but they committed to it none the less.  They have put in many hours in the classroom and many miles on the track, but if you ask them what they are most excited about they will say meeting their sponsored kid!  The program and experience became real to them when they discovered their “kid’s” situations and they became motivated to not only learn about their life but to help in any way they could!  All of a sudden a trip became a journey!

I have attached the general itinerary of our trip and I ask that you pray for us, follow our updates on the blog, and leave the students encouraging notes!

Thursday May 26th —– Depart Chicago for South Africa 7am.

Friday May 27th ——–Arrive in Durban 8pm  (nearly 29 hours of travel 🙂

Saturday May 28th—–Safari game drive to Tala.

Sunday May 29th ——Observe and Support other World Vision runners at the Comrades race.

Monday May 30th——Fly to Area and drive to World Vision Area Development Program

Tuesday May 31st ——Meet and get to know kids in village (race)

Wednesday June 1st —Say good-bye and fly out to Cape Town

Thursday June 2nd —-Tour of Robben Island (Where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison)

Friday June 3rd ——–Exlpore Cape Town, relax and debrief

Saturday June 4th——Depart Cape Town

Sunday June 5th ——–Arrive at Chicago Ohare (4pm)

Monday June 6th ——-Back to School!!


The Presentation Party!

When you meet or learn about a person or people group that is significantly less fortunate than you are you have two options .  1) You can distance yourself in a futile attempt to avoid their pain and preserve your comfort, or 2) You can join their struggle and figure out ways to turn your compassion into responsibility.

This past Friday our 6 student Africa runners chose the latter….

After Michael Chitwood came and spoke to our kids about global poverty and the work of World Vision two weeks ago our group immediately started thinking of creative ways in which they could help their peers in South Africa.  They were each charged with finding child sponsorships (through WV) for 3 of the kids who live in area that we will be visiting on our trip.

Our students from the West side of Chicago came up with the idea of having a “presentation party” where they would tell people about the program, the trip, and child sponsorships!  After putting a presentation together and rehearsing their specific parts and speeches the night of the party finally came last Friday, May 13th.

We got to our hosts’ house (thanks Hovey Fam!) early to rehearse the presentation one last time and as the first people started showing up I started to get a little nervous.  As an adult it is hard to make presentations in-front of people you don’t know and present them with a big “ask”, let alone as a teenager in a new and uncomfortable environment.  But yet again our Breakthrough kids proved my worrying ways wrong!

After our runners floored their new audience with a flawless and tear jerking 2o minute presentation we opened it up for some Q&A.  Our kids proceeded to answer amazing questions about both their own situation in Chicago and those of the kids they were going to meet on the trip!  It was obvious through their answers that they had a genuine concern for their South African friends, and they made it known that they understood their responsibilities toward these kids who had so much less then they did.  We then had our students individually spread throughout the room and invited the adults to continue the questioning on a 1 on 1 level.

Saying that I was “blown away” is an understatement.  At the end of the night everyone of our kids got a World Vision child sponsored, and some even got two which brought our group total for the night to 10 Child Sponsorships raised!  However, it was not the total number of sponsorships that brought me to tears, but it was watching our kids from one of Chicago’s most under-served neighborhoods speak and act boldly and passionately on behalf of children who have even less fortune than they do.



*I added a few more pictures to the gallery from this awesome night.

**Our kids are still trying to reach their goal of 18 total kids sponsored so if you are interested in hearing more contact

A True “School Rally”!

(Ashley at Beidler’s “Africa Day”)

As a 13 year old 8th grader at Beidler Elementary School, Ashley Allison is the youngest participant in the Africa Running Program, but as her principal Dr. Shirley Ewing puts it, “Ashley is one of a kind!”

Breakthrough has been blessed to have developed a great working relationship with Jacob Beidler Elementary School throughout the years. When Dr. Ewing heard that one of her top students was chosen for this trip, she and her school immediately sprung into action. As I told Dr. Ewing that we were having a difficult time securing all of Ashley’s trip costs I had no idea that the following day would officially become “Africa Day” at Beidler and that the whole school would rally to raise support for Ashley! The stories of teachers and students raising money and committing to continually raising it till Ashley’s departure floored me when I heard about them the next day.

I knew right then and there that Ashley was meant to go on this trip and I just had to sit down with both Ashley and Dr. Ewing to hear more…

Dr. Ewing, tell me  about Ashley and what makes her “one of a kind?”

– “Ashley is obviously one of our top students academically, but it’s her natural leadership qualities and that make her such a great role model. She is consistently involved in every type of extra curricular activity from athletics to dramas. ”

Awesome, so why did you so quickly decide to have the school help raise support for her?

– “Well that was easy,  Ashley and the whole Allison Family are consistently faithful and giving of themselves, so we had to jump at the chance to give back. Ashley has a pure and obvious desire for others and a natural servant’s attitude that has her always ready to help people. The least we could do was to make sure that she knew we as a school were proud of her and that we would do whatever we could to ensure her trip was possible!”

Ashley, how does this make you feel?

– “I feel so special because, really, how many schools and principals would do something like this for a program that is not a part of their own school? Thanks Dr. Ewing!”

*As an aside (not spoken in interview): EXACTLY!  Beidler is more than a public school, it is a Community school that cares about its kids and community outside of the classroom as well! Refreshing.

What are you looking forward to the most about the trip?

-“I am looking forward to meeting my sponsored kid (through World Vision) and hanging out with her. Her name is Bukhosi, and I cant wait to learn about her life and compare it to mine in Chicago.”

Yeah that will be amazing!  Is there anything else you want to say to the people out there following  you and this trip?

– “Yeah, THANK YOU! I am also feeling like this is such a great opportunity because many people my age do not go anywhere outside of their neighborhood. Africa is where my ancestors originated from and it will allow me to see how many people my age suffer and go through many challenges.”

– Ahsley

If you would like to join Dr. Ewing and Beidler Elementary School in making sure Ashley’s trip costs are covered please contact as we have a little ways to go.

An interview with Cheyenne!

Cheyenne lives with her two sisters, niece, and nephew in our East Garfield Park neighborhood here in Chicago. She has been a participant in Breakthrough’s youth programs since she was in the 6th grade.  Cheyenne is a young lady who is hard-working and persistent, even in the face of different obstacles.   She is a developing leader who many other girls in the Breakthrough program and neighborhood look up to.  This combined with her genuine spirit and big heart makes her a perfect participant for this program!

I sat down with Cheyenne yesterday and asked her some basic questions so you all can get to know her a little better….(transcripts below)

So Cheyenne, why did you originally want to join the Africa Running Program?

–“I wanted to join this program because I have always wanted to go on a trip like this and I love running so I thought it would be a good opportunity.  It sounded too scary at first especially because it is the first trip but then I thought, I could do this!”

Well, why do you like running so much?

–“Well i don’t really like running while I am running (smiling 🙂 )… The training is very hard and I sometimes get bored of going around the track again and again.  But I love how I feel when I am done and how it feels to run in a race with a bunch of people cheering you on!”

I totally agree! What have you learned so far that has been interesting?

–“I liked learning about South African history and Nelson Mandela, but I really liked learning about the child sponsorships and what life is like for kids over there.  Well, actually my favorite class was the race!” (Ravenswood 5k)

Is there any part of the upcoming trip that scares you?

–“YEAH, THE PLANE RIDE!!  I have never flown on a plane before and I hate going over water even when we roll over bridges!  Can’t I take some medicine to sleep the whole time or something???”

🙂 What are you looking forward to most about the trip?

–“A lot of things…but probably the most is getting to meet my sponsored child and getting to play and have fun with her!”

Awesome!  Is there anything else you would like to say to everyone out there following us?

–“Yeah, I feel so special for this, so thank you for supporting me and making this trip possible!”

— Cheyenne

Kids running for kids

What a weekend!

Friday 4/29

Every Friday this season has been our track workout days followed by dinner and our classes.  This past week we were lucky to have Michael Chitwood join us and give us an introduction to the work of World Vision and charge our kids with finding South African child sponsorship.  World Vision is a huge humanitarian aid organization that is working for sustainable solutions to global poverty in over 100 different countries.  Michael explained to our students what life was like for kids their own age in impoverished african villiages including the one that we will be visiting in South Africa!

Our kids were absolutely floored with this stuff and they had many questions.   It was amazing to witness them start processing the reality of global poverty and, probably because they realized we were going to see it first hand, start to think of things they could do to help!

Michael then charged each of us in our group to find 3 child sponsors for kids that we are actually going to meet in the remote villages in South Africa, through their Child Sponsorship Campaign.   As Nick, Tony, Alesha, She-She, Ashley and Cheyenne saw the faces and read the stories of South African kids that they will meet, they started thinking of who and how they can ask people to help!  They all made a list of everyone in their network that they could ask and we decided to have a dinner party on May 13th to give a big presentation on why they are going on this trip and ask these for World Vision Child Sponsorships!

As I said before, it was amazing to see them digest this stuff and I am excited to see how hard they work at something that is currently a distant idea but is going to be so very close in just a short amount of time!  If you would like to come to this special night that our students are putting together on May 13th leave a comment here and I will email you the details!

Sunday 5/1

All six participants, true to form, showed up on time at Breakthrough at 6am despite having a probably combined 7 hours of sleep 🙂  We ran the Ravenswood 5k that morning, thanks to our friend at Fleet Feet Sports! It was a great race and our kids did amazing including She -She who ran her first ever race and crushed it!!

Btw, 3 out of the 6 set PRs!  Check out the “Picture Gallery” for more of the race day pictures….

Coming up on Thursday…Student interviews!!

“…this aint nothing, we are runners!”

We are 3 weeks into our 8 weeks of training, and both on and off the track the kids are off to a great start…

We started with our first run as group on Friday April 8th and of course in true Chicago fashion it was a beautiful 38 degree “Spring” day with windy and rainy conditions.  As the day progressed toward our 6pm start time, I could not help but become a little nervous.  So much effort and anticipation had been put into the start of this program and I wanted to it to start off with a “bang”.  I began thinking about how not ideal it would be to have our first day canceled because of weather.  Talk about a momentum buster!

But sure enough, as soon as I started to become a bum and consume myself with worry and doubt God slapped me across the face…this time he happened to use one the participants, Nick Jordan, to do so!  Nick fell in love with running this past fall during his first year in the running club. In fact, him and a couple other students trained for and ran the Turkey Trot 8k on their own last year, even after our season had finished.  As rain began to soak me and Nick that Friday while he was helping me unload supplies from a van, I made a negative comment about the weather and how it will probably be raining that night.

Nick said, “Rusty, you are not going to cancel running club are ya?”

“Not sure yet, man.” I replied.

Nick stopped what he was doing and looked me dead int he eye and said, “Man… this aint nothing, we are runners!  We have run through a lot worse weather than this! We got…what you call it….endurance!”

I smiled.

Nick was right.  Over the past 2 years of running club, the Breakthrough youth have consistently shown up to as early as 6am on Saturday mornings despite the weather.  During the first year (09) our girls ran through hail and freezing rain on more than one occasion.  Last year our boys ran on the lakefront during a day in which the winds blew with gusts up to 60 mph and the sand from the beach mixed with rain was literally cutting them till their legs bled as the ran.  Anybody remember these days?!?!

How quickly I had forgotten the spirit and determination of our students.  For years I had preached that running teaches discipline and running through bad situations develops endurance, and now I needed Nick to remind me of that!

Needless to say we ran that day.  All 6 of our kids cruised through their 1.5 mile run despite rain not letting their eyes look any further than their feet!

I got a feeling that this is not the first time these kids are going to blow me away!


Side note; we as a group our running the Ravenswood 5k, courtesy of our friends at Fleet Feet Sports, this Sunday May 1st!  Anybody out there going to be there too??

Also, I don’t have a lot of pictures of our crappy weather runs for obvious reasons, but I was able to snap the above one with my phone during the sandstorm run of 2010…I am not exaggerating when I say that their legs were bleeding!

The Story Begins

This is the story of 6 kids from Chicago’s East Garfield Park neighborhood.  This is the story of 6 sets of fears and hesitations.  This is the story of 6 lives forever changed!

While East Garfield Park is one of Chicago’s most under-served and disadvantaged neighborhoods,  ranked at the top of the city for crime and drug use every year,  it is absolutely packed with brilliant and talented young students.  Our youth, however, are often limited by both seen and unseen barriers in their lives that are purely a product of the neighborhood we live in. 

For the past 10 years Breakthrough Urban Ministries has come alongside parents and educators in the community simply saying, “How can we help our kids overcome these obstacles?”  What we have found is that we can help the children in EGP best by providing; bible studies that can nurture their faith, an after school program that can improve their academic skills, and sports leagues that can expand their network and provide safe places in the community. 

These programs are continually helping students overcome some of the barriers before them, and now the Advanced Running Club is tackling the barrier of the “world-view”.  Whether you live in EGP or Barrington, we are all trapped by the walls of our own environment.   We don’t naturally see past our immediate surroundings and put our situation in the context of others…especially others that we are not familiar with. 

This is the story of 6 kids from EGP who are ready to have their world views rocked, and their opportunities in their own community highlighted! This is the story of 6 talented students from an under-served Chicago neighborhood working for their peers across the world who live in an even harder situation.  This is the story of Nick, She-she, Alesha, Tony, Cheyenne, and Ashley!  

We hope you follow their story…