Running to Empower Girls

At Girls on the Run Los Angeles (GOTR), the girls are more important than the running.

NPO - Girls on the Run CoachesGOTR (www.gotrla.org) uses the power of running to teach girls they can do anything. That does not mean, however, that the girls must be future Olympic athletes or even like to run. Nor are its coaches/mentors necessarily avid runners either.

Placing the role of running in perspective in the GOTR program—designed for girls in the 3rd through 8th grades—matters, because parents often misunderstand GOTR as an athletic program rather than an effort to inspire girls.

“We hear, ‘It’s not for my daughter—she’s not a runner,’” says Molly Snow, Executive Director. “Most of our girls don’t think of themselves as runners, especially the younger girls. Very few eight-year-olds are thinking, ‘I can’t wait to go on a run.’”

“Running is how we encourage them to set a goal and achieve it,” she said. “You can see on their faces how much it matters for them to do it: it’s confidence building. That 5K (the final activity of each session) is a long way for most of these girls.”

Running was carefully selected as the core activity integrated through each session’s 24-lesson curriculum. Girls meet twice each week in teams of 8 to 15.

“Using running as the core activity has benefits for keeping girls active,” Snow explained.Girls on the Run Staff
“You can run anywhere; it’s free.” Keeping the girls active has grown more important as many schools curtail their physical education programs.

“We’re trying to show girls that this is a way to be healthy,” she said. “We work on how a girl talks about herself and how she sees herself. It’s not just about me, it‘s also about the people around me. Once the girls learn how awesome they are, they can learn how to have healthy friendships and learn how to be part of their larger community.”

GOTR concentrates on girls in grades 3 through 8 in an effort to counteract disturbing trends educators spot in girls that age, noted Snow. “We hear from teachers all the time that girls stop raising their hands,” she added. “Around the fourth and fifth grades, the girls start letting the boys win at physical activities and in academic fields—letting boys have the spotlight. I’m not sure that the girls even know that they are doing it.”

Jericho Road Pasadena values GOTR so highly that it has matched several volunteers with GOTR, which is about to celebrate its 10th anniversary.

Chris Arnold, a professional filmmaker, shot and edited an informational video describing GOTR and showing how it improves the lives of the girls it coaches. He was very impressed with GOTR. “Their success with the girls is amazing,” he said.

Stevie St. John, public relations and marketing professional, worked with GOTR for a year in 2013 to raise its profile in traditional media. St. John was able to interest newspapers throughout Southern California (both in their paper and online configurations), as well as a national runner’s magazine and several television stations.

With the cooperation of teen actress Peyton List, St. John was also able to promote the GOTR message on several anti-bullying websites. St. John seems to have received as much as she gave.

“It was a really good experience to see the work they do—particularly seeing the girls run,” St. John recalled. “It was also a really good volunteer project for me to take on during my first year freelancing: to understand the changing media landscape and new ways to navigate around that world.”

Snow and her staff know how impactful GOTR is. “We evaluate the program every couple of years to determine whether we are having the impact on the girls that we think we are. We ask the girls (through a survey at the beginning and at the end of each 12-week session) to rate the changes in themselves. Then we compare the surveys for statistical change.”

“Probably the most common thing we hear back from our coaches is one, I wish I had this when I was a girl,” Snow said. “Two, I wish they had this for adults.”

With its goal of helping girls improve their self-esteem, their attitude towards physical activity and their satisfaction with their own body, GOTR deals with weighty matters. But none of this empowerment would work without the girls having fun.

After all, how many nonprofits have Hot Pink Crepe Streamers on their wish list? Anyone want to contribute some Snazaroo Face Paint Kits?

So GOTR does not recruit world-class runners. Instead, it shapes girls who can look into a mirror and find a strong and beautiful human being looking back.

Many thanks to volunteer Ned Racine for writing this article! Ned communicates in a variety of visual and written media, particularly social media. He has helped nonprofits with their strategic communication plans.

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