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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

“Girls’ getaway” takes time to help local kids and families

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A U.S. group, Exchange of Pace, combines travel, fitness and philanthropy as they prepare to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Mérida half-marathon. Photo: Courtesy

Mérida, Yucatán — Some people can take time to give of themselves to others and run a road marathon as well.

Their leader was also kind enough to spend some time telling us about their mission here and abroad. Here is our conversation:

Please introduce yourself and tell us about Exchange of Pace.

My name is Amber Kelleher, and I am the founder of Exchange of Pace, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization combining travel, fitness, and philanthropy. Think of it as a girls’ getaway weekend that incorporates an optional wellness activity and some form of community service.

Learning how to make brazo de reina, visitors from the U.S. spend time in a cultural exchange with kids and families in Mérida. Photo: Courtesy

Where does Exchange of Pace travel?

Our inaugural trip was in January 2017 to Havana, Cuba, where we completed a 22K-bike ride and brought donations to an English-language bookstore that does community outreach work. We just returned from our November 2017 trip to Yucatán, and we’re planning two trips in 2018 – a return to Yucatán and our first trip to Haiti.

What was your fitness activity in Yucatán?

We planned our itinerary to coincide with the Rock ‘n’ Roll 10K and 21K in Mérida. The night race is a unique attraction for participants and the course is well-supported. Plus, the 10K distance is manageable for newer runners. Spectating was an option, too!

Project Itzaes Ixil partnered with Exchange of Pace’s women for some meaningful time together. Photo: Courtesy

Did you have a charity partner in Yucatán?

Yes, we partnered with Proyecto Itzaes, an organization providing educational resources for children and families in villages in Yucatán. In the last 17 years, PI opened seven libraries, sent 40 first-generation students to college, and taught computer skills to thousands of children. Exchange of Pace participants collected over 25 kilos of toys, games, beads, and other coveted items that will be distributed to the children attending PI’s centers. Our group also participated in an educational rally with the kids. We had a lot of laughs while we learned new words in English, Maya and Spanish.

What were some of the highlights of your time in Yucatán?

We enjoyed visiting the ruins at Mayapan and Xcambó, and of course, the cenotes are incredible. We also participated in a fantastic cooking class where we learned how to make brazo de reina. The most impactful memories for me, however, were the stories we heard. That’s what these trips are all about – exchanging cultural experiences, shining a light on the need, and reinforcing the message that every person can make a difference.

What is one of the stories that stood out to you?

An expat told us a story about a boy from her soccer’s team who asked her son how much bread costs in his neighborhood in Mérida. Her son really had no idea, but he said, “10 pesos.” The mother told us the teammate’s eyes grew wide and he responded by saying, “When I grow up, I want to sell bread in your neighborhood!” I can’t stop thinking about that one.

What else would you like our readers to know?

Two things. First, I can’t say enough about how friendly the Mérida community was. It made such an impression on the group. Second, I would love to raise more awareness about the great work Proyecto Itzaes is doing. They rely almost entirely on volunteers and the need is great. I’m hoping our experience will resonate with some of your readers and encourage them to reach out and get involved (proyectoitzaes@gmail.com).

Visit exchangeofpace.org and proyectoitzaesusaonline.org for more information.

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