Beth Elk Looks Back Inspires Rosebud Reservation Children

Beth Elk Looks Back has worked at the Boys & Girls Club of Rosebud, on South Dakota’s Rosebud Indian Reservation, since 2013, when she used to teach kindergarten and then go to work at the club after school each day. In 2015, the club received a Healthy Habits grant. This grant was made possible by a partnership between the Walmart Foundation and Boys & Girls Club of America Native Services, which enabled Beth to attend training and become the Club’s Healthy Habits Coordinator.

Marathon Kids Rosebud

Boys & Girls Club of Rosebud

The Boys & Girls Club is a free after-school program available to all elementary school children on the Rosebud Reservation. It currently serves about 500 youth on the reservation, and its dedication to improving their health and morale is much needed. Established in 1889 after the United States partitioned the Great Sioux Reservation into five smaller reservations, the Rosebud Reservation is the home of the Sicangu Lakota people. It is located in Todd County, which has the second-highest poverty rate in the country; kids living on the reservation also grapple with serious community challenges including gangs, substance abuse and a high suicide rate. Healthier food choices that are also affordable are often not available to Rosebud families.

Healthy Habits and Trying New Foods

After traveling to Atlanta, GA, for Healthy Habits training, Beth brought home a strong foundation of curriculum and knowledge about making good food, exercise and life choices—but at first, there wasn’t a lot of buy-in from the Boys & Girls Club kids. They thought the curriculum was boring and weren’t interested in participating.

Beth persisted, encouraging the kids to try new foods that they might not have been exposed to before. She always tries the new foods right alongside the children, and has even discovered that she likes blueberries and yogurt—two foods she didn’t used to enjoy. The kids have grown to love learning about new and different foods, and especially love the part where they get to enjoy a post-lesson snack.

Introduction to Marathon Kids

Last year, Glen Marshall, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Rosebud, asked Beth if she’d like to start a Marathon Kids running club. This was a natural next step for an organization focused on improving health.

Some of Beth’s favorite childhood memories are of hiking with her parents, siblings and cousins, so she had already regularly been taking the Boys & Girls Club kids hiking around the area’s fields and hills. The children had also participated in bouldering and rock wall climbing activities through the after-school program. Still, the idea of starting a running club was a bit daunting for Beth. “Growing up,” she says, “I was never into sports, so when Glen approached me with the opportunity, I was a little intimidated at first. The only thing I’d ever done was just running around with kids playing tag.”

A Running Club is Born

She started the Marathon Kids program in June 2018. “Every day I was out there running with the kids,” she says. “By the end of the first month, I was running on my own time as well.” Best of all, the kids loved it. Only 10 children participated that first season, but they were so excited to run—and the other Boys & Girls Club children expressed jealousy about the fact that the Marathon Kids got to go on special running outings to places like Indian Scout Lake and Ghost Hawk Park. One middle-schooler even got involved with the club after his elementary-aged siblings raved about it.

The Boys & Girls Club of Rosebud isn’t just an after-school program; it stays open nearly all summer long, and the children participate in baseball games, walks and other events as part of the club’s TRAIL Diabetes Prevention Program. The benefits of the Marathon Kids club are extending across all of these programs. For example, one little girl’s baseball coach noticed that the girl has become a much faster runner since she started Marathon Kids, and one of the elementary school cross-country coaches told Beth she’d noticed that the Marathon Kids are always able to keep up with her on their distance runs.

This past summer, Beth took her Marathon Kids runners to participate in the Rosebud Sioux Tribe Billy Mills Half Marathon, named after a Sioux runner and Olympic gold medalist who grew up on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation. Some of Beth’s run club kids ran the 5K, and some ran the 10K. “They ran and they ran and they ran,” Beth says, “and they loved it. Billy Mills was at the end of the race, and he gave them a medal for finishing.” They also participated in the Robert Iron Shell Running Camp For Youth that was held at the Todd County High School Track. Robert is a gifted athlete and a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, who attends Briar Cliff University.

A Bigger and Better Next Running Season

Beth is hoping to start up Marathon Kids once again in spring 2019, once the ice and snow have melted in South Dakota. She feels certain the club will be larger this time around. Four other clubs have already expressed interest in joining, and the group is exploring options through various community connections for external funding of the run clubs. The Boys & Girls Club of Rosebud also just received another Healthy Habits grant, which means Beth will be heading back to Atlanta for another training on the new curriculum designed for native clubs.

Beth says her kids can’t wait for the next run club season to begin. “They’re very excited. They ask me every day: When are we going to start?”