I teach my students that both genders are equal, and frequently introduce them to stories of strong women. I have them read I Am Malala and hold Socratic seminars about women’s rights, but sometimes a student wants to hear from someone other than their teacher or parent. Enter after school programs. They are as vital to a student’s growth as a textbook. In Rhode Island, one of the programs we have is Girls on the Run RI, a nonprofit that since 2012 seeks to empower girls one step at a time. Girls on the Run has a powerful mission statement that says they are an “organization dedicated to creating a world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams.” What drew me to learn more about this program was that the organization doesn’t call aspects of their programs activities, rather they call them lessons. And these lessons aren’t haphazardly thrown together. These lessons, which are steeped in research, begin with goal setting, discussions about healthy and unhealthy activities, and nutrition, and they’re followed by a workout session to tie it all together. At the end of both programs the girls are mentally and physically strong enough to run a 5K and they do so in a celebratory run. Not every person can say they’ve completed a 5K, but Girls on the Run is doing this while creating a memorable experience for participants. Clearly this is a program designed to have a lasting impact.
The program is split into two sections, a 3rd- through 5th-grade program and a 6th- through 8th-grade program. These groupings have specific goals. The group for younger girls is called Girls on the Run, and the middle school program is called Heart and Sole. Both programs cover the same topics, but at age-appropriate levels. Through these programs, the girls build both physical strength and strength of character.
Nationally there are Girls on the Run programs encompassing 200 councils, one being the RI council. The RI council is serving over 40 sites this year with 600 girls, but that number is sure to climb as it has continually climbed since 2012. This is all done with an office staff of just three people, which means that volunteers are vital to this organization. Coaches volunteer for a 10-week interval, and many coaches are junior coaches between 16 and 18 years old. Talk about empowerment for our young people!
So why running? Executive Director Jackyln O’Hara related it to her own experience. “It wasn’t until I was a young adult that I began running and I discovered there was something powerful about it. It unleashed a confidence in myself that I didn’t always have.” O’Hara is definitely helping RI girls reach that level of confidence, because there is nothing more satisfying than getting to the end of a finish line, which Girls on the Run does quite literally. “I want to make sure that ALL girls get to feel this confidence at a young age, and during our 10-week program I know that girls do.”
To learn more about volunteer opportunities with Girls on the Run RI, visit their website at gotrri.org