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There’s no denying the physical benefits of running. The New York Times recently ran an article about running. It stated that a recent study claimed that running may be the most effective exercise to increase one’s life expectancy. In fact, running as little as five minutes a day can add to our life span. But running goes far beyond the physical. A group called Girls on The Run is on a mission to show young girls how running can empower young girls. The organization’s aim is to help build up girls’ confidence, create life-long friendships and offer guidance from mentors. Girls on the Run took off at the starting line and isn’t looking back in its goal to change the lives of young girls. We wanted to learn more about this organization, so we spoke with one of its leaders.

Tell us how Girls on the Run got its start

Girls on the Run was founded by educator and former Ironman, Molly Barker, in Charlotte, NC in 1996. Molly was inspired by her own childhood experiences and her work as a teacher and coach. Thus, Molly began the organization with one team of 13 girls as an individual effort. In 1998, Runner’s World mentioned Molly and Girls on the Run and the organization began to take off. And, now 21 years later, Girls on the Run is a national force for good, serving over 200,000 girls per year in all 50 states. We have served over 1.4 million girls to date and continue to experience considerable growth each year.

What is its mission? 

Girls on the RunGirls on the Run is a physical activity-based positive youth development (PYD) program. It is designed to enhance girls’ social, psychological and physical skills and behaviors to successfully navigate life experiences. The program’s intentional curriculum places an emphasis on developing competence, confidence, connection, character, caring, and contribution in young girls through lessons that incorporate running and other physical activities. The life-skills curriculum is delivered by caring and competent coaches who are trained to teach lessons as intended. In short, our mission is to inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running.

What are the overall growth goals of Girls on the Run?

We aim to serve 2 million girls by 2021 and to be available and accessible to any girl who wishes to participate. We envision a world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential. She would be free to boldly pursue her dreams.

What kinds of struggles does Girls on the Run face?

Sadly, cultural and institutional gender biases and barriers still exist that perpetuate and reinforce negative gender stereotypes. These barriers are enlarged if you are a girl living in poverty, a girl of color, or a member of the LGBTQA community.  We want all girls to recognize the power they have to define themselves on their own terms. And, to rise above pervasive societal messages and barriers – both conscious and unconscious – that limit their potential.   In order to achieve our goals we need the resources, both volunteer and financial, to do so.  Girls on the Run relies on the support of over 100,000 volunteers per year to serve as powerful role models for our girls in the form of coaches, running buddies, board members, and 5K volunteers.  We simply could not offer the program if we do not have the coaches to lead the teams. In addition, we provide over $12 million per year in financial assistance to ensure that cost is not a barrier to participate in our life changing programs.

Tell us about the power of running for these girls.   

Our physical and emotional health are closely linked. Our curriculum incorporates fun running games and activities to teach important life lessons. For example, lesson include teamwork, gratitude and empathy. Additionally, running is an accessible and inclusive activity for children. There are no uniforms or equipment required. A pair of shoes and a safe space to move are the only things needed. Lastly, it is a great confidence-building sport. After all, it is easy to set and track your own personal goals and progress over time. Personal goal setting is a key component of the Girls on the Run curriculum. It reinforces the power we all have to set and boldly pursue our own dreams. The season’s culminating event is the celebratory 5K. This event gives participants a tangible opportunity to set and achieve a significant goal. It provides a positive framework for future goal setting. Girls on the Run focuses on personal improvement versus competition. Overall, we encourage girls to run, jog or walk at their own healthy pace.

Tell us about the relationship between the volunteers and the girls.

Girls on the Run volunteer coaches are the heart and soul of our organization. They are women and men who take great pride in role modelling caring, connectedness, and inner strength. Coaches are from all backgrounds and communities, all ages and professions, and often, are not runners!  They reflect the girls and communities we serve. They can be parents/guardians, teachers, support staff, administrators or community members.  Anyone who shares a common belief in the inherent strength, bravery, and limitless potential of all girls is encouraged to get involved.  Girls on the Run engages over 50,000 coaches annually. Coaches are provided with all the training and support needed to have a rewarding experience with the girls. They gain as much from facilitating the lessons as the girls they are serving, and have a lot of fun too!  It is truly a transformative experience, for both the coaches and the girls alike.

What is your advice to a young girl who might say she’s not a runner? 

You do not need to be a runner to be in Girls on the Run! We are much more than a running program. Girls on the Run is designed to enhance girls’ social, psychological and physical skills and behaviors to successfully navigate life experiences.

What is your advice for someone who wants to start a group in their own area? 

Visit girlsontherun.org/Get-Involved to connect with your local council to learn more about bringing Girls on the Run to a school or community site near you!

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