Northeast Portland Neighborhoods

Unique options for matching personal fitness with community giving

    At the finish line of a Girls on the Run practice 5k, participants are handed a celebratory wand. (McKenzie Miller)

At the finish line of a Girls on the Run practice 5k, participants are handed a celebratory wand. (McKenzie Miller)

By Jamie Caulley
For the Hollywood Star News

The traditional holiday season of giving just ended. But why not keep it going into the new year? Often January brings a change in focus towards personal goals, frequently fitness goals. What about combining the two? Here are a couple opportunities that will help you increase your physical activity while giving back to your community at the same time.

Pixie Project

This non-profit located at 510 N.E. Martin Luther King Blvd. rescues dogs and other animals from overcrowded shelters, housing them until they can be matched with a life-long owner.  With up to eighteen dogs awaiting adoption at any one time, the Pixie Project relies on volunteers to help their limited staff give the dogs enough exercise.

Currently, about 50 volunteers assist with walking and/or running the dogs, which increases the dog’s emotional and physical health and probably the volunteer’s, too.

“We are pretty thoughtful about the dogs we choose to send out with people. That way, they get the best experience,” said assistant director Shannon Wheeler, on how volunteer walkers and runners are matched with an appropriate dog.

Alison Weaver, a local runner who takes a Pixie dog on a run once or twice a week, said that although she runs regularly, motivation during Portland’s cold, wet winters can be challenging. “All I have to do is think about a dog that is sitting there waiting. It’s what gets me out the door sometimes,” Weaver said.

The Pixie Project requires a one-hour training class for all dog walkers/runners to establish a few rules for everyone’s safety. However, beyond that there is no volunteer time commitment; you can help out daily or once to twice a month.

Volunteers are encouraged to take the dogs out for at least thirty minutes, a suggestion that can help those furry and otherwise make sure they get their recommended dose of daily activity. The fresh air and stimulation help dogs relax after a run. “The ones that get you are the ones that seem so anxious; and then they transform into these happy, playful dogs,” Weaver said.

Girls on the Run

Girls on the Run (GOTR) is an international organization that helps girls grades 3-5 discover healthy living and self-confidence through physical exercise.

The Portland chapter of GOTR, located at 3439 N.E. Sandy Blvd., #129, was started in 2007 by Nancy Fleck-Perez. At the time, twelve girls were taking part.

“Honestly, ever since then, GOTR has grown like wildfire,” said program manager McKenzie Miller.

Miller, who first joined GOTR as a running buddy three years ago, expects more than 500 participants this year in the Portland metro area. Three local grade schools Beverly Cleary, Vernon and Harvey Scott  will host GOTR programs.

GOTR participants take part in a twelve-week program, consisting of two, 90-minute fitness sessions a week. The program ends with a celebration of fitness when all participants take part in the 5k Starlight Run on May 31 in downtown Portland.

According to Miller, the program focuses on each girl’s total well-being, which includes her physical, emotional and mental health. “They are learning about themselves and learning what it is like to be their own independent free-thinking individual,” Miller said.

There are several ways for women to get involved with the program. One of the easiest ways is to become a running buddy. Each woman is matched with a girl for the Starlight 5k race as well as for a practice 5k on May 1.

Miller explained that running buddies need not be elite runners. They just need to be able to finish the 5k distance, whether running, walking, or skipping with the girls. “We are not trying to get fast splits here,” Miller said.

Becoming a volunteer coach requires a larger time commitment, about four hours a week, but allows the opportunity to work with the same group of girls week after week. Coaches lead the fitness sessions designed by the GOTR curriculum and must attend a coach’s training session on March 2. Coaches do not need to be runners. “They just truly have to believe in empowering the girls,” Miller said.

Registration for participants opens January 27. Informational nights for coaches will be held on January 7 and 8. Running buddies can sign up after March 10.

“As someone who is a runner, I love the community of women and family, business and community that surround the program. It’s magnetic,” said Miller.

For more information on volunteering with the Pixie Project: (503) 542-3432 or gro.t1414751461cejor1414751461peixi1414751461p@ofn1414751461i1414751461.

For more information about volunteering with Girls on the Run: or gro.n1414751461ureht1414751461noslr1414751461ig@re1414751461llim.1414751461eizne1414751461kcm1414751461

Leave a Reply