When Dominique Sabbs got Andres Herrera running with the Marquette Park run club, she told him to try running just for a bit. A bit further, she told him, until the 54-year-old truck driver ran 3 miles.
Herrera still runs with the club. Aside from health benefits, it helps the 27-year Marquette Park resident get to know more of his neighbors.
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“The community is the people, and you get to know the actual diversity of the neighborhood,” Herrera said.
The Marquette Park run club is one of six neighborhood clubs supported by the Chicago Area Runners Association. The nonprofit announced this month that it received a $25,000 donation to support the clubs and free, timed 5K races.
Timed 5K races, just over 3 miles, often have entry fees as high as $70. Offering the races for free makes running more accessible to more people, which is one CARA’s goals.
Run clubs meet weekly in the same place; the 5Ks take place at a different Chicago park every Saturday from February to November. Both programs are free and open to anyone.
CARA begin offering the free 5Ks in 2018. It started working with neighborhood clubs in 2020, making a concerted effort to reach Black and Brown communities on the West and South sides. It organized new clubs in the West Loop and Marquette Park and helped support clubs in Austin, Humboldt Park, Lake View and Edgewater.
CARA’s work with the neighborhood clubs came in response to the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man killed in February 2020 while running in Brunswick, Georgia. Arbery’s three white attackers were found guilty of hate crimes in November 2021.
While many running clubs planned runs on the anniversary of Arbery’s murder, the Chicago group wanted to do more.
“For us to do that one day and say that was it, that wasn’t enough for us,” said CARA board member Darren DeMatoff. “We don’t want to feel like we’re just doing this one thing, and then we disappear. We’re really looking to make an impact into the communities that we serve.”
The Park District waives permit fees for hosting the races in Chicago parks and by supplying portable toilets at the races. CARA pays for the number bibs, flags to mark the course and time-keeping equipment for the volunteers.
An anonymous donor also helped launch CARA’s support for the neighborhood clubs in 2020. CARA plans to match the donation through fundraising by Oct. 9.
DeMatoff said additional donations will help CARA get involved in local high schools, block clubs and local churches. “We’re looking to deepen our impact within neighborhoods where we’re at.”
Sabbs, a CARA community development manager, said the 5K program boosts neighborhoods by bringing well-organized races to the South and West sides.
“People realize you can run a race, and you don’t have to go up north, you don’t have to pay, you can do it right here in your own community,” Sabbs said.
What Sabbs likes about the weekly run clubs is they strengthen neighborhoods, physically and otherwise.
“You don’t have to run, you can walk, just stepping outside and seeing your community in a different light helps.”
Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.