Westly’s Mile — a collaboration among The Foundation for a Healthier West Orange, Healthy West Orange and the American Heart Association — is off to a running start.
After a successful inaugural in 2022, the program has more than doubled in size and celebrated its second year at a kick-off event Wednesday, Sept. 13, at Independence Elementary School.
The walk/run club is designed to give elementary students in West Orange County a foundation of healthy habits.
Last year, the program started in five schools and has since expanded to 11 schools in the West Orange and Southwest Orange areas. These include Panther Lake, Frangus, Independence, Castleview, Pine Hills, Citrus, Maxey, Ocoee, SunRidge, Tildenville and Tangelo Park elementary schools.
In its inaugural year, 400 students logged nearly 7,000 combined miles. With more than 1,000 students participating this year, they’ll likely leave that record in the dust.
Lesa Boettcher, COO at the Foundation for a Healthier West Orange, said the children are what continue to inspire her about the organization’s mission.
“Seeing their excitement, seeing their accomplishments and seeing what each kid gets out of this experience is different,” she said. “It could be emotional, or it could help with social integration. It’s not a competition. It’s a safe place that hopefully builds their healthy habits forever.”
Evan Petrarca, physical education teacher at Independence, is helping to lead the program on the ground.
“I thought the program was a great idea,” he said. “We have kids who sit outside and wait for the doors to open before school, and there’s not always someone there keeping an eye on them. I thought it was a great way to get their energy up in the morning and start the day off on a positive note. Here, I can keep them safe and get them active — especially before it gets too hot later in the day.”
Heather Maloney, executive director at AHA, said the goal is to be in 29 schools by year five, eventually integrating into every elementary school in the area.
Being a parent of a child at one of the schools, Maloney understands the benefits derived from the program.
“I know the benefits for them while they are exercising are exponential,” she said. “They are sleeping better, eating better, focusing more. We want to inspire them to start exercising and develop it into their lifestyles at a young age so it remains an important part of their routine as they get older.”