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Veteran Continues to Serve as a School Volunteer

                A veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve is inspiring a team of Adams Elementary School Gators to be “gung-ho” about running.

                As a participant in Cleburne ISD Volunteers In Public Schools, Frank Soto works with third-fifth graders in the afterschool running club as a campus volunteer and involved Adams parent.  On Wednesdays, he is out on the track with the team—currently at 50 and growing.

                “We are new to Texas, and our kids are new to Adams,” Soto said. “When my wife said she wanted to be involved at their school and was going to the volunteer orientation meeting, I decided to go, too.”

                “When I saw the running club on the list of volunteer opportunities at Adams—I was in,” Soto said.  “Running is the number one thing they do in the Marine Corps. Although I’m not a hard-core runner, I felt there were things I could teach the kids.”

                Gators Running Club Faculty Sponsor Debbie Meek is pleased to have an extra set of hands—and feet—at the weekly practices. The running club was among the activities placed on hiatus during COVID, and Meek is excited to have it back in place this year.

                “The student response has been great,” Meek said. “We just renewed our participation with the New York Roadrunners Club Mighty Milers program, and our afterschool runners are starting to log their miles. I’m hoping we can compete at a 5K at some point.”

                “Having Mr. Soto on board as has been a real bonus,” she said. “I think he’s a good match for this. We’ve never had a volunteer with the running club before. He’s patient with kids--they just swarm around him and he goes with it. It’s also exciting to have a male role model on board in the form of a dad, volunteer and veteran.”

                Soto is excited to have an opportunity to serve in a new way, and views volunteering at Adams as one way to give back.

                “My years in the Marine Corps were pretty amazing,” he said. “I am proud of my time in the Reserve. It made me the person I am today. I’m always seeking ways to give back, and this is one. I’ve been called ‘coach’ by the kids—that feels pretty good.”

                “Right now, I’m getting them started, as we try to introduce them to running—for a distance,” he said.  “We’re teaching them about breathing, and building on their progress as runners. We are also setting goals and doing a 5K is a great place to start. There are lots of things we can help with.”

                Soto ran cross country in college.  At the age of 24, he joined the Marine Reserve Corps, having been inspired in high school.

                “I guess running helped prepare me for the training that was ahead,” he said. “When I was in high school, I would see the Marine recruiters on campus. I always thought they looked so sharp in their uniforms. I think I challenged myself then to learn what it would be like to be a part of that.”

                “My time in the Marines gave me the best of both worlds,” Soto said. “Once my training was over, I was able to continue with my education while serving one weekend a month and two weeks out of the year for six years.  I attended UCLA, as a major in psychology with a minor in Chicano studies. I got out in 2004, which was followed by two years of inactive duty. My unit never got called up for deployment to the Middle East, which would have been our likely destination--but I would have gone if I had been called.”

                Soto has completed a marathon, and been a member of a running group, but he believes in practicing what he preaches, and has signed up for The Hybrid Runner Turkey Trot 5K taking place November 19 at Hulen Park.

                “I’m wanting to see those kids who are maybe not doing much with physical activities to get involved in the running club,” he said. “I’ve also been thinking I’ve got to get in better shape myself. Even though they are still too young for the school club, I want to see my son and daughter get involved in running. You can start at a very young age.”

                “It’s in those early ages, when you get involved in activities—sports, playing an instrument—confidence begins to build,” Soto said. “But kids are sometimes afraid to jump into something because they don’t know how it will go. I’m excited to be a part of a program where we can encourage kids to make that jump and begin to build confidence. This is a great place for that.”