Running is known to improve health. A local nonprofit is hoping it can improve the health of a community.
The first ever Boulevard Blast 5K race will be held in Norwood on Saturday, September 27 from 8-11 a.m. along Norwood Boulevard. There will be a 5K run and one-mile fun run/walk.
The Norwood Resource Center (NRC) is sponsoring the race, which will benefit both NRC and other programs aimed at improving the lives of those in the Norwood community. The mission of the 5K is twofold: to reintroduce Norwood – once one of the city’s most admired neighborhoods – to Birmingham, and to increase health and wellness in the community.
“Our goal is to be active and have fun, and the Boulevard Blast 5K lets us do both,” said Mélodie Echols, the executive director of the NRC. “It’s promoting fitness and health in the community. We want people to experience Norwood and the community.”
The Boulevard Blast is a part of the NRC’s community development effort, which also includes Norwood Learning Gardens program, the Junior Master Gardener summer program and the neighborhood farmer’s market, Echols said.
“What better way to talk about health and wellness than to come and out and do it?” said Ray Anderson, who is the operations manager and program coordinator at NRC.
As a prequel to the 5K, there have been free training sessions, dubbed “Couch to 5K,” at the Norwood Boulevard Trail Saturday mornings from July 26 to Sept. 6. Norwood residents who were present at the most training periods will have the chance to win a bicycle presented by Regions Bank. The winner will be declared during the 5K.
“In the Couch to 5K, it’s important to capture [the Norwood residents] then, because we have to get this whole neighborhood used to a culture of running and health and wellness,” Anderson said. “They’re not used to it. So, the process is getting them off the couch and out actually walking and jogging.”
“We’re looking forward to continuing the process of engaging people in the Couch to 5K, next year,” Echols said. “It’s a process, so we’re just going to continue to talk with people about it and try to get more and more people involved.”
One of those who got involved at a training session was Norwood resident Dr. Stefanie Robel, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “When I first moved here [from Germany], maybe two or three years ago, my husband already lived here. It was kind of deserted here when you walked around. It’s just been great to see that picking up,” she said.
“There are more and more people walking their dogs, or just walking around, or playing with their kids on the [Norwood] Boulevard,” Robel noted. “It’s just great to see. This 5K is just another opportunity to get more of our neighbors involved in the community, and to also have other people from other parts of town come here and see how beautiful it is.”
Proceeds raised from the 5K will help fund programs such as Norwood Learning Gardens, Norwood Market at The Trolley Stop, and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), all a part of the NRC’s mission to offer educational and other service-related activities not only to residents of Birmingham’s northern neighborhoods, but also to those across the rest of the metro area. “NRC provides information about and referrals to local service agencies, assistance in accessing those services, informative workshops and valuable free programs such as computer classes and income tax preparation,” according to the organization’s website.
“Both Norwood Learning Gardens and the Market at The Trolley Stop address the lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables in the Northside Community of Birmingham, which is a food desert with no grocery store in the community,” the site reads. “The services of the center are designed to promote a healthy and productive community.”
“The Resource Center is our nonprofit partner through the Norwood Learning Gardens,” said Sarah Bettinger, who is a master gardener, garden manager of one of the Norwood gardens and chair of the steering committee for the learning gardens program. “Their support is invaluable to us. I can’t overstate that. So, we obviously are happy for anything [such as the 5K] that brings funds to them or puts the spotlight on Norwood,” she said.
The Boulevard Blast is dedicated to the memory of Bill Black, who besides being a congregant of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church was also a founding member of, and advisor to, the NRC. “He is really important to us because of his service to the Resource Center, helping to found the Resource Center and giving it its start,” Echols said. “And then he served on the board for many years. So his contributions are really important. We just wanted to recognize him for the community, and we want his family to know how much we appreciate him and his legacy.”
The response to the race and the buildup to it has been positive within the Norwood community. “I think the residents are excited,” said Echols. “We’ve been talking about the 5K and the Couch to 5K for several months at neighborhood meetings, other events and the market.” Anderson even went door-to-door to personally speak with residents about what would be taking place.
According to the press release for the 5K, surrounding communities also have responded favorably. “Our parish is really rallying around the Boulevard Blast 5K,” said Rich Webster, who is the rector at Saint Luke’s Church in Mountain Brook. Webster enjoys running and sees the value in events such as this one. “The word is getting out fast. We expect a large number of Over the Mountain runners to participate,” he said.
Those interested in more information or who want to register can click here.