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Putting Teen-Agers on the Right Track : Students Run L.A. Can Use Donations and Volunteers to Help At-Risk Youths

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If not for a timely intervention, Jason Bender of Reseda might still be a teen-ager you’d love to hate. When he was a tagger, for example, he and his buddies once emptied 20 spray-paint cans in just one night of graffiti madness. Now, the 18-year-old has a much more admirable after-school activity. He can’t wait to lace up his New Balance 677 shoes and just go for a run.

Bender is one of some 250 to 300 Valley teen-agers who have caught the fever of Students Run L.A., a program that helps at-risk youths develop self-esteem and long-term motivation by training for the Los Angeles Marathon. The program originated in 1989, and Bender takes classes at one of the original campuses, Aliso continuation school in Reseda. Now he has a long-term goal of becoming an LAPD canine officer.

“Before, I felt pretty worthless and I wasn’t doing well in school,” Bender said. “Now I’ve got a B average instead of flunking every class.”

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The goal of finishing the next L.A. Marathon begins this weekend at Cal State Northridge, where the Department of Kinesiology will conduct a fair designed to motivate and inform students about the program.

For those who stick it out, Students Run L.A. has achieved gratifying results. In the words of one of its founders: “If they smoked, they gave it up. If they were normally late for class, they began showing up on time. If they had no plans to graduate, they made them. And many have even gone on to college.”

Paul Trapani, a coordinator and founder of the program, says that the group is always in need of donations and volunteers to help expand the effort and to pay expenses such as race fees for shorter runs that bolster the training regimen. People who are interested in helping Students Run L.A. should call (818) 345-9377. Those who do might just help another teen-ager trade one of those spray-paint cans for a water bottle.

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