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ConnectVA Spotlight: Jacki Quinlan, Sports Backers

Tell us about yourself

My name is Jacki Quinlan and I am the Director of Community Outreach at Sports Backers. Armed with a B.S. in Psychology and a MEd. in School Counseling, I spent the first 11 years of my career working with individuals with disabilities in a sheltered employment program and serving youth with mental health disorders in Title 1 schools. As I moved into a management position I decided to start a run club at Oak Grove-Bellemeade Elementary School to fulfill my need to continue having a direct impact on youth. The experience of giving back through physical activity was more fulfilling than I ever could have imagined, certainly more fulfilling than my personal running accomplishments. Now I have the opportunity to support youth run clubs all over the Richmond Metropolitan Service Area and facilitate fitness programs in underserved communities to combat the health inequities that exist in our region. I was born and raised in Richmond so it is a dream come true to work for a nonprofit that serves my hometown. This position allows me to combine my passion for active living with my program management experience while giving me the opportunity to improve the health and wellness of the communities I care so much about.

What is the focus of your work, the need you are addressing?

Our mission at Sports Backers is to inspire people from all corners of our community to live actively. As the Director of Community Outreach, I am charged with creating opportunities to overcome the health inequities that exist in the Richmond region. It is recommended that youth have at least 60 moving minutes per day while adults are expected to attain a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. Unfortunately most school districts in our region only provide physical education once per week and most youth sport activities are based on a pay-to-play model. The situation is particularly dire in low-income communities, where health outcomes are suffering, situational stressors prevent physical activity from being a priority, and residents experience a lack of access to affordable fitness opportunities. Our programs are aimed at breaking down the existing barriers and making physical activity a reality for all.

What do you find most rewarding about your work?

The most rewarding aspect of my work is seeing people reap the benefits of an active lifestyle. I first experienced this on a direct level, watching the kids in my run club make improvements in their cardiovascular endurance. I also witnessed, during my work at the Calhoun Center in Gilpin Court, a woman who had been chair-bound for several years finally have the strength to get out of her chair for short periods of time as a result of participating in our fitness classes. Those are big wins! Now what I find most rewarding is equipping other community leaders with the skills needed to go out and make similar impacts. By being involved in training our Kids Run RVA coaches and planning the intensive training our Fitness Warriors go through, I know that I am indirectly helping more people than I could ever have reached individually. That is immensely rewarding and time well spent.

What are some major challenges you have faced and how you handled them?

One of the most challenging aspects of our work at Sports Backers is the need to create sustainable programs that impact a large number of people. It would be easy to pay a fitness instructor to lead a class in a low-income community. It would be easy to be pleased with making an impact on one person in that community – because that is special and important work. But in order to truly make a difference on the health outcomes in our community we must reach more, do more, and have a program that expands its reach every year. I handle this challenge by working with my team to constantly evaluate our work, setting specific annual goals for each program, and soliciting feedback from the communities we serve to ensure that we are constantly improving and growing. When focusing our efforts on underserved communities we must acknowledge that physical activity is only one piece of the puzzle. There are many underlying – both personal and systemic – factors that contribute to the overall wellness of a community. Our role is to enable folks to overcome those factors and make physical activity a priority. Working through that challenge requires patience and an understanding that change won’t happen overnight. It requires us to implement programs that empower community leaders to serve as role models to induce cultural change that will ultimately lead to the health outcomes we all desire.

What’s one misconception the public has about your organization OR what would someone be surprised to know about your organization?

It’s not uncommon for the public to only know Sports Backers for our events, such as the Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10k, or to assume we are a for-profit organization because there are registration fees associated with our events.  I think many people are surprised to learn that we are a non-profit dedicated to improving the health of our community by hosting events that inspire locals to be active but also by investing in our community through our programs such as Kids Run RVA, Bike Walk RVA, and Keep It Moving.

Do you have any interesting initiatives or programs on the horizon?

Our Fifth Class of Fitness Warriors will kick off on January 13th and there will be new classes added to our weekly offerings starting in March! You can find a listing of our free fitness classes at www.sportsbackers.org/warriors-schedule. From December 11th to January 17th, we will be recruiting volunteer Kids Run RVA coaches to ensure that we have an army of coaches to support the run clubs that will kick off across the region in early February. You can learn more about our coaching support and the application to become a coach by visiting www.sportsbackers.org/program/kids-run-rva/coaching-support/. Lastly, the YMCA 10k Training Team, which is also a program of Sports Backers, kicks off on February 3rd. It is a 10-week training program leading up to the Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10k on April 14, and helps prepare runners, joggers, and walkers of all ability levels for the 10k in a fun, supportive group environment. We offer an income based rate of $10 for anyone who qualifies and is in need of assistance.

Are you and/or your organization involved in any exciting collaborations or partnerships?

Our work at Sports Backers is dependent on partnerships with numerous community organizations. The Fitness Warriors program functions as a partnership between the Richmond City Health District (RCHD), Fit To Go, and the American Council on Exercise (ACE). All of our free Fitness Warrior classes are held in libraries, community centers, churches, Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA) facilities, and other community spaces that have partnered with Sports Backers to offer this resource to their community.  The YMCA of Greater Richmond is also a great partner of our organization, not only for the 10k Training Team program but in making space available for us to offer Fitness Warrior training sessions at their facilities.  In regards to our work with youth, we would be nowhere without our partnerships with the local school districts in Amelia, Chesterfield, Hanover, Henrico, Hopewell, Petersburg, Powhatan, and Richmond.  We also partner with NextUp RVA to provide fitness opportunities for adolescents through their after-school programming. Our longstanding partnership with the Richmond Times-Dispatch enables us to offer the  Times-Dispatch/Sports Backers Scholar-Athlete Awards and scholarship program, which has awarded over $1,000,000 in scholarships to local student athletes since 1992. Sports Backers is grateful for a plethora of additional partners not mentioned here for the sake of space.

How are you leveraging ConnectVA/The Community Foundation to achieve your mission?

The Community Foundation has been a great supporter of Sports Backers’ overall mission over the years. Specifically, our work with NextUp RVA would not be possible, as NextUp RVA is a function of The Community Foundation.

Anything else you would like to share?

Muhammad Ali once said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.”  If you have a passion for active living and are looking for a way to get involved in serving your community, Sports Backers provides a platform for you to do just that.  Our Kids Run RVA Coaches and Fitness Warriors are volunteers who have decided to dedicate their time to serving the community through our organization. If you are interested in getting involved, check us out at www.sportsbackers.org or feel free to contact me directly!

Video Links:

Sports Backers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mMdRFeEVTO4&feature=youtu.be

Fitness Warriors: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wVSGfhWuajY

Kids Run RVA: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NB5wPRw1yrw

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