On a hot and muggy Thursday afternoon, Tyler Wildes, 18, of Auburn, and Josh Birkbeck, 15, of Lewiston, would probably rather be at the pool than running the Bates College track with Lewiston police Officer Craig Johnson.

But yet, they find themselves meeting up with Johnson, Sgt. Marc Robitaille, officer William Rousseau or Bob Tiner, of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, twice week at the college track.

The two young men are part of 15 or so members taking part in “Up and Running,” a running club for at-risk kids from Lewiston and Auburn. 

The program, which has other chapters in Maine, was brought to the state after Tiner heard about a similar program in Los Angeles.

Participants are determined to be at-risk if they are already in the court system, on probation, within the confines of house arrest or juvenile detention, or simply live in the downtown area and could be negatively influenced.

“We’re entertaining them when they could be out there doing the wrong thing, and we hope we’re moving them in the right direction,” Johnson said. “It’s not just about physical fitness. It’s more about interaction.”

Only in its second month, the Lewiston-Auburn chapter has seen a positive outcome from the group.

Wildes ran the Beach to Beacon on Saturday, finishing in 50 minutes, 39.1 seconds.

“It’s been good for me because it’s gotten me back in shape and ready for football,” said Wildes, who runs around 5 miles a day, even when not meeting up with the group. “It also keeps me out of trouble.”

The plan is to continue meeting weekly and hopefully to recruit other interested kids.

“It gives us a chance to mentor them,” Johnson said. “To steal a page from the mayor’s book, if you want to fight crime, you have to invest in kids. And that is exactly what this program is designed to do. Take at-risk kids, and give them a positive mentor.”

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