When Karyntha Cadogan and Erin Trent, both West Philadelphia residents, began running together to train for the 2009 10 mile Broad Street run, they didn’t realize their teamwork would eventually lead to the creation of uGO, a community wellness venture centered around a 5K race that is designed to promote community revitalization from the inside out.
The idea first came to Karyntha, an affordable housing developer, after she ran a community based 5K through the Grey’s Ferry/Graduate Hospital area on a whim. Says Karyntha, “I showed up to the race alone, but I wasn’t alone. It was such a cool mix of residential streets with neighbors cheering from their stoops. Something about that made a lot of sense.” She mentioned this positive experience to Erin, who leads the corporate social responsibility practices of a Philadelphia retailer, and Erin eagerly responded, “Let’s do it ourselves but in West Philly.” They connected with Nathan Mcintyre, a gym owner on Lancaster Avenue and 39th Street, who suggested they meet Michelle Freeman, a woman who had worked for Campus Philly and the Philadelphia Marathon. Together, Erin, Michelle, and Karyntha started building a network of people interested in a West Philadelphia 5K and community wellness initiative.
Team uGO post-5k | Photo by uGO
Today, The uGO network has grown exponentially. Fitness professionals, nutritionists, city planners, government officials, community organizers, business owners, and community members are all involved. Coined TAPs – short for Thought and Action Partners – this diverse group contributes their unique skills, interests, and connections to the uGO endeavor. To date the TAPing concept has helped uGO leverage in-kind donations and technical assistance in order to reduce their cash needs by half. To uGO, collaboration is key to success.
uGO just celebrated its 1 year anniversary. In 2010, uGO recruited, trained, and supported over 50 (mostly) West Philly families whose members ranged in age from 0 to 77 years. uGOers participated in an 11 week uGO fitness challenge that included walking/running, group fitness, nutrition workshops, phone and email support, health screenings, and a culminating 5K Run/Walk in September 2010.
One of uGO’s main goals in bringing neighbors together is to help people feel safe when they’re exercising outside in the neighborhood. “There is safety in numbers,” Karyntha and Erin agreed, “whether it is running, walking, or jumping rope.” They also said that running together was their first inspiration for uGO, because they were able to create a supportive network for each other, which “inspired us and kept us in check.” When asked if any larger social and political forces also helped motivate them to start uGO, they immediately said, “First Lady Michelle Obama. She has a total uGO attitude.”
uGO grocery challenge | Photo by uGO
While Karyntha and Erin see uGO as a model that could potentially be replicated in many different cities and neighborhoods, they say that Philadelphia is a great place to start this initiative, ‘because this is where we live, and the city is so approachable.” uGO has already connected with people in community development, the health department, and the mayor’s office. The city of Philadelphia could also benefit by having a community organization such as uGO help planners to get community input on “deciding, for example, whether to build a walking trail or put lights in the park,” said Karyntha.
This summer, every Saturday at 8 AM, uGO is back, up, and exercising in preparation for their 2nd annual September 5k Run/Walk, while expanding their programs to include South Philadelphia/Mifflin Park in addition to West Philadelphia. uGO itself grows stronger along with its members, as neighbors come together to share resources, recipes, and other ingredients for healthy communities with their ever-expanding network of people ready to get up and go.