Young girls all over Maine have a spring in their step and a newfound confidence about themselves thanks to Girls on the Run, a nonprofit organization that inspires and empowers pre-teen girls through running.
“It’s been fascinating to watch it grow and see the impact we’ve had on so many girls,” said Staci Olson, program director for Girls on the Run Maine. “We’ve helped 3,000 girls. Personally and professionally, I couldn’t ask for anything more. It’s a pretty special thing to do.”
Girls on the Run is a national after school program aimed at helping girls in 3rd through 8th grades be healthy and confident using a life-skills based curriculum, various games, and running workouts. There are independent chapters in all 50 states. The Girls on the Run Maine chapter started five years ago with just one team in Portland. Now there are 75 different sites participating in the program from York to Presque Isle, with over one thousand participants.
“The reason we do running is to give the girls the life experience of setting a goal, working towards it and accomplishing it. That’s played out by having girls participate in a non-competitive 5K at the end of the season that’s all about celebrating each girl’s individual accomplishments,” explained Olson.
In the fall and spring, participants meet twice a week for 10 weeks with their team. Volunteer coaches have a different topic they address at each practice, from self positive talk and healthy habits to cooperation, teamwork, and community involvement. Then coaches will walk their team through a series of activities to practice that day’s topic before they all step outdoors to run.
“We really put a lot of emphasis on the elementary program,” said Olson. “We’re trying to reach girls at the key age where their confidence is still strong and we’re building off that to help give them skills to battle challenges they may be facing when they get to middle school, where there is more social pressure on them and they may question their identity a little bit.”
Girls on the Run has had a huge impact on 11-year-old Hazel Goodwin of Brunswick. She joined when she was in the third grade.
“I like running. You do so much stuff and it is a really positive environment,” she said. “And Girls on the Run is not competitive at all so everyone runs at what they call their own ‘happy pace’ so you just relax and have fun.”
Hazel’s mom, Alyssa Goodwin is a local pediatrician who rearranged her schedule to be a volunteer coach with Girls on the Run.
“I’m a runner. I’m a five time marathoner and I grew up in a family of runners, so I’ve always loved runners and I felt like so much of my practice nowadays has become talking to kids about promoting healthy habits, minds and bodies, especially in the world these kids are growing up in,” said Goodwin. “Ever since I became aware of this program, it seemed like the perfect marriage of all my interests because it focused on girls having positive self esteem and how to manage nutrition, being kind, making friends and [it addresses] bullying and peer pressure.”
Girls on the Run Maine is always looking for new host sites where the program can help empower even more girls in the state.
“We look for host sites willing to let us come in and provide our programming. We need classroom space and outdoor running sites. We help get them set up and [also] help with coach recruitment,” said Olson.
The program costs $145 per participant and scholarships are available for those whose families can’t afford the fee. The Goodwins believe the program and its message to young girls is worth the investment.
“Hazel is smart and really talented but tends to be afraid of trying hard things. What we noticed immediately [after the program] was her confidence. Some time at the end of her third grade season, Hazel spontaneously said, ‘I think Girls on the Run is the best thing that’s ever happened to me,’ and I said, ‘You know, I think you’re right,’” said Goodwin.
For more information on Girls on the Run, visit girlsontherun.org.
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