Support through sports | TheUnion.com

Support through sports

Misty Cullen is not yet sure whether she’ll join in the fun of actually running in Saturday’s Run for Friendship, the latest stop on the Gold Country Grand Prix running series.

But she is absolutely certain to be on hand for the event, helping to lend a hand for The Friendship Club, a community program that served as her support system throughout her junior high and high school days.

“I’m not able to picture a Misty not being involved in it,” Cullen said. “I don’t what I’d be like, or how I would have turned out, without it.

“It’s an awesome program. It gave me a lot of chances and opportunities to do things wouldn’t really have done without it. It’s pretty amazing.”

Cullen is just one of the dozens of disadvantaged adolescent girls who participated in western Nevada County’s Friendship Club program, which is geared to teach its members “important life skills and empowers them to complete their education and lead responsible lives.”

Saturday morning’s inaugural run will not only serve as the start to the second half of the Gold Country Grand Prix’s season, but also as a key fundraising event for The Friendship Club.

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“It just helps you as a person,” said Cullen, who graduated from Bitney Springs Prep this year and plans to study at Sierra College in the fall. “The girls I met here all have backgrounds that are different in life.

“But you’re all equal here. You don’t have talk about things, but you can because it’s a safe place.”

And, typically, members of the Friendship Club are dealing with a wide array of potential obstacles to their own success, whether in the form of a family member struggling with substance abuse or perhaps their own perceived lack of social skills.

For Alisha Randall, the challenge was to come out of her shell.

“My mother passed away … when I was in the third grade,” said Randall. “After that happened, I just kind of shut down. It really messed me up, mentally.

“But my family was very supportive about me (joining the Friendship Club). They looked at this and said ‘Go for it.’ “

Randall couldn’t pinpoint which aspect of the club ” the afterschool meetings, the summer camps or just the positive peers she found with fellow members ” helped her the most, but she knows that each of her experiences had an impact.

But, she said, the program is aptly named.

“The friendships really meant a lot to me,” Randall said. “At school, I didn’t really reach out to anyone. I kind of just kept to myself. But here, the girls might have been the same way and we bonded in that sense. Having those friendships build up your confidence and allows you to meet new people and talk about similar stuff you’re dealing with. And that’s a big part of it.”

Such sentiments must seem like music to the ears of the club’s executive director, Jennifer Singer, and her staff.

“The goal is to give them models to reflect the idea that there is a reason to do well in school, that you can achieve and you can go on and have the life you want to have,” Singer said. “We’re trying to empower them to be responsible, work hard and really think about where they’ll want to end up.

“If they graduate with us, they’ll be eligible for college scholarships or help with a vocational school. Twenty of the 24 who have graduated with us have gone onto higher education. Some of them were the first in their families to do so.”

Randall said she had no inclination toward college before she joined the Friendship Club.

Now, she’s in her junior year of studying psychology at California State University, Chico. She’d like to pursue a career in counseling, perhaps with families or adolescents.

“One thing I’ll always remember is setting goals,” she said. “We learned the importance of having something at the end of the tunnel, something to look forward to, something to live for. And it doesn’t have to be about college. It could be getting a job or just getting better about opening up to people.

“It’s just about always having something to work toward and the importance of having something to look forward to. I’ll take that with me forever.”

For more information on the Friendship Club visit the Web site http://www.friendshipclub.org or call (530) 265-4311.

To contact Sports Editor Brian Hamilton, e-mail bhamilton@theunion.com or call 477-4240. You can also read his blog at https://www.theunion.com/blogs/sports.