Young girls today face a variety of challenges including bullying on social media, the childhood obesity epidemic, and societal standards of beauty.
Girls on the Run is a program that teaches young girls to be healthy and confident through dynamic, conversation-based lessons and running games. In addition to developing running skills, the 12-week program aims to develop leadership skills, healthy habits, and other strategies to deal with life’s challenges.
“It's a place where you don't just run but where you get to know other girls and where you get to talk about how you feel,” said Reign Campbell-Williams, an 8-year-old in the Girls on the Run program.
Jade Walker, 9, expressed similar sentiments about the program.
“I like it a lot because one, its girls, and it's also talking and exercising, and I like to talk and I like exercising too,” Walker said.
In addition to the 5K at the end of the program that all of the girls train for, each team is required to do a local community service project that empowers the girls to make a difference.
Selina Ruiz, a teacher at Growing Up Green charter school in Long Island City, New York and coach for Girls on the Run has seen the girls on her team take huge strides.
“Their confidence, just in being themselves has grown phenomenally. I'm seeing some of our youngest girls approach other girls in our play yard asking them to play and I don't know that I would have seen that before the program,” she said. “They're really empowered.”
The program not only empowers the girls, but also positively impacts the mentors as well.
"It encourages me to be a better woman for my girls. I've got a team of young girls looking up to me, and I'm strong for them, I keep pushing myself for them,” Ruiz said.
Founded in 1996, Girls on the Run currently has programs in over 47 states and has over 70,000 volunteers and coaches that help make the program successful.
Coaches, parents and participants all agree that the lessons they learn span far beyond the 12-week program.
"It makes me feel so great about myself, sometimes I don't like the way my clothing are, or how my hair is, but now I know people accept me the way I am, and I really like that." Campbell-Williams said.
For more information visit www.girlsontherun.org.