Elementary and middle school can be a tough time for many boys as they enter adolescence. A new group in Washington is helping them overcome those challenges with a pair of running shoes and a goal.

“I just hope that they can take some of the social and emotional lessons with them,” said Jeannie Bastasch, a Greenwood Elementary School P.E. teacher. "That’s what I really hope from the program.”

Bastasch helped start a local chapter of Let Me Run, a group that that teaches physical and mental wellness to boys as they navigate what can be a difficult stretch of their young lives.

On Sunday, after weeks of training, they gathered for the Furry 5K in Seward Park.

“The cheer that they say is ‘Let me be me!’ so they don't have to fit into the narrow box that American culture says a man has to be, so they can be themselves,” Bastasch said.

She and other educators and parents started the group in response to school shootings, and as a way to do something locally to help boys speak up about any emotional challenges they might be experiencing.

“As a team, we always stick together,” one boy said. "Not only are we trying to become better runners, but also trying to become better people.”

A similar program for girls, called Girls on the Run, helps “unleash confidence through accomplishment while establishing a lifetime appreciation of health and fitness.”

Bastasch says she is helping train additional Let Me Run coaches, so the program can expand to other schools in the fall.