Girls on the Run gives girls a chance to succeed just the way they are
by Eric Johnson
When Stephany White was ready to help her daughter prepare for those difficult middle school years, she realized the area lacked a girls’ club that emphasized healthy living the way she felt it should be emphasized.
“I was thinking about starting an all girls’ weight loss camp here in the Southeast,” says White, who has a background in health science education. “Then a friend of mine in Atlanta asked me if I’d ever heard of Girls on the Run. When I googled it, the first thing I saw about it was, ‘teaching girls to accept who they are exactly how they are’ and I thought — that’s what I’m doing at home… I could do that on a much larger scale.”
So in 2010 White started a chapter in Aiken with two host sites and 19 girls. A year later, she had expanded into Richmond and Columbia counties and was serving 256 girls.
“This year, we just expanded into Burke County with a grant from the Healthy Start Initiative and a collaboration with the UGA Extension Service in Burke County,” she says. “We hope to be in McDuffie County this spring.”
Though Girls on the Run is the overall name of the Charlotte-based organization, the program is broken down into two different curriculums — Girls on the Run, which is for third through fifth graders, and Girls on Track, which is designed for sixth through eighth grade girls.
“We meet twice a week for 10 weeks, and over the course of those 10 weeks there are three levels of lessons,” White says. “The first grouping of lessons is getting the girls to accept who they are exactly how they are. We talk about self esteem, we talk about what their core values are and we teach them to appreciate their differences.”
The second group of lessons focuses on team building and the third focuses on community, incorporating a community service project to emphasize the value of volunteerism.
“All the lessons are done interactively, and they all take place the same way,” White says.
Each day includes a warmup activity to get their cardiovascular system pumping — usually a relay game or a version of tag based on whatever they happen to be studying. Then comes the workout session, where the girls run laps around the track or the field or whatever the host site has available.
“Each lap they do, there’s an activity that they’re doing along with it that reinforces whatever the lesson is that day,” White says. “That workout helps them achieve their ultimate goal, which is a 5K celebration run at the end of the season.”
The 5K, which the girls run with a parent or another running buddy, gives the girls an important sense of achievement.
“When you see the girls’ hot, sweaty, red faces come across the finish line of something they never would have thought they’d be able to do, they just beam with pride,” White says.
Girls can stay in the program from year to year, and parents and teachers notice a big difference in the girls who participate.
“They have more self confidence,” White says. “They are able to speak their mind and they tend to stand up for other classmates who might be in a bullying situation.”
In some locations, the group has contributed to the school’s vocabulary, as in “what would a Girl on the Run do?”
Though the minimum cost the national organization allows White to charge is $150, which she says barely covers the costs the group incurs, she works hard to provide as many scholarships as she can.
White says parents recognize the value of the program and will sacrifice to make sure the girls get the opportunity to participate.
“I can’t tell you the number of Ziploc bags I get with crumpled up dollar bills and five dollars worth of change,” she says.
The curriculum, which teaches the fundamental aspects of wellbeing, also meshes with the health and guidance standards taught in school, so the things the girls learn work to supplement what they are learning in school.
The next session starts the second week in September. Anyone interested can contact White through the website, girlsontherunofthecsra.org.You Might Also Like: