I can’t say enough about this organization, from when I stumbled upon it several years ago and volunteered as a lead coach to now coming full circle by having a daughter of my own that I will watch struggle with body image like all girls do at that fragile age between 3rd and 8th grades. Girls on the Run is one organization that is going to make a difference in this world because they are targeting the young girls in our society that will grow up to be strong, confident women and we all know how amazingly successful and powerful that combination is!:)
The Program: (from their website) The Girls on the Run program is a structured character development program that uses training for a 5k event as a means to teach essential life skills to 3rd-5th graders. Each individual lesson plan is based on the “Whole Person Concept”. The “Whole Person Concept” stresses the importance of equally developing the spiritual, emotional, mental, social, and physical parts of the individual to create a well-balanced, whole person. The lesson plans are designed to encourage exploration and use of each of these five parts.
The Founder: The founder, Molly Barker, is a North Carolina based triathlete/counselor started GOTR as a way to help prepare young girls for a lifetime of self-respect and healthy living. She has a great story of her own and way she found this “girl box” she calls it when she was in the middle school age and felt like she had to look a certain way to fit in.
The Philosophy/mission: Molly worked with behavior specialists to create this unique program that uses sports, in this case running, to teach very specific and well-defined social and personal skills. Research indicates that development of these skills will prevent the future display of at-risk behaviors resulting in fewer adolescent pregnancies, fewer eating disordered girls, less depression and suicide attempts, fewer substance/alcohol abuse problems and fewer confrontations with the juvenile justice system And yet the Girls on the Run program is more that the program itself. It is a philosophy. It is a way of being. It not only impacts the girls who participate directly in the program, but supports efforts to provide an environment for all girls that nurture, develop, and celebrate their strengths. (pulled from the GOTR website here)
It’s also sponsored by ATHLETA, power to the SHE! and they give Coach Recognition awards on their Athleta Chi Blog!
My Experience with GOTR Atlanta: I volunteered as a coach for GOTR when I was in corporate America and looking for more meaningful ways to spend my time! I had a program at work that allowed me to leave early if I was volunteering and this one was so perfect because it allowed me to leave the cubicle number crunching world and play outside! I taught at E. Rivers and Morningside Elementary 3rd-5th grade levels. The program was easy to follow, lessons were all laid out, and I just read the script.
What I didn’t know then that I know now is that the girls were in awe of me, I was their “coach” and to most of them, their first ever and first of many coaches in life and in sports. They clung to me each week and at the 5k race like a cool big sister and they listened to me when I talked, way more than they listened to their mothers or fathers I am sure. I didn’t realize how important and crucial this role that I was given was until I had a daughter of my own. GOTR Coaches are about so much more than winning a game or teaching them how to hit a ball or cheer, we were trained to teach these girls some incredible lessons about being strong on the inside and out, loving their bodies no matter what size, being proud of who they are, owning their voice. I will do whatever I can to make sure there is a GOTR program happening when my 2-year-old daughter reaches 3rd grade and I hope it is with a coach that understands how valuable her role is and how important this program is.
The 5k Race: So maybe the cutest part is that the girls meet after school and, at least for the younger ones, have a super hard time paying attention to the lesson albeit an “active” one because it is after school so it is time to GOSSIP and giggle! We would have to run them for the first 20 minutes just to wear them out so they would stop chatting long enough to hear our lesson:) The lessons were the main focus of each afternoon together but the end goal was to help the girls learn to pace themselves to be able to actually finish a 5k race! The biggest challenge I found with the program was not so much the gossiping, chatting, giggling, bullying, sensitivities, or silliness they showed me after school, it was trying to teach hyperactive chatty 3rd graders how to actually PACE themselves so they could run longer than 2 minutes at a time!! They ALL started out at 120% and after maybe 1/4 of a mile in, they were walking holding their sides and panting….in a little clique of course:) They would repeat this throughout the race course until they finally sprinted across the finish line and they had the BEST time ever completing their 1st 5k race.
WOW…Hello running world, GOTR just got hundreds of potential girls hooked on races forever. If you have ever run a race of any kind, you know that once you cross the finish line you say to yourself, “I’m doing that again, when is the next one”!?
The race is fun to run in just to see young athletic girls in youth/teen little running shorts with bright new sneakers on! If you do nothing else but run in this race, donate to it, or volunteer to hand out water, it is worth your time.
Finally, if you already participate in or have a daughter that participates in GOTR then please forward this to friends to help spread it to as many schools as possible.
If you are interested in getting involved, here is how;
1. Enroll your daughter. If you have a daughter, get this program in your kid’s school asap or enroll her this year. At this crucial age (3rd-5th grade), the lessons taught in GOTR go MUCH further than if they can do a cart-wheel, kick a soccer ball, or play the piano.
2. COACH or volunteer for the 5k run. If you have any time to give and love to be active yourself, be a coach or help the program start-up at a school near your neighborhood.
3. Give money, if you don’t have the time to coach or don’t have the children to participate, help the charity raise funds so that they can extend the program to lower-income schools and reach more and more young girls that so desperately need to be taught how to live healthy lifestyles!
Look for GOTR to be the primary charity for 10 Pack Atlanta in 2013 as we raise money for the program through donation workout classes. Sign up for the email newsletter to find out more about these 10 Pack workout parties that are held at local boutique fitness studios in Atlanta. It’s about LOVING to sweat and doing it often.