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Girls on the Run

by Molly Barker

I am a very low maintenance person. What you see is what you get. I don’t get manicures and I don’t wear much make-up. I don’t know how to curl hair and I hardly ever wear dresses. Case in point, the first time my daughter saw me wear something other than pants or shorts, she was old enough to talk. I stepped out into the living room in my one skirt, she pointed at its fabric and asked in a completely serious tone, “Mommy what’s that?”

So a couple of weeks ago she walked into the bathroom while I was “doing” my hair. She had a purse draped delicately across her shoulder, sunglasses perched on top of her head and a drop-dead gorgeous perfectly matched skirt and jacket ensemble. She looked at herself in the mirror and sighed. “I just love myself.”

I hid back the chuckle. ”Helen, what is it that you love about yourself?” I asked.

“I love my eyes,” she said. “I love my mouth,” she said. “Oh yeah, Mommy. And, I also love my heart.”

It struck me right then and there that my daughter was on the cusp of girlhood. Even at age five, she was taking in the messages I try to instill in the girls I work with.

This is precisely what we wish everyone who comes in contact with our Girls on the Run Program. What is Girls on the Run? Ask any number of people and you will get a variety of answers. Some describe it as a running program, a self-esteem enrichment course, an after-school program, a mentoring program, a life-skills program, and even a prevention program. The description is in part, determined by the lessons learned by the person talking about the program.

The program, based on sound psychological research, engages girls in third through fifth grade in a series of detailed lessons that reveal to them—in their own language—an atmosphere where they are free to be themselves. Three core goals are at work over the 12-weeks.

  • During the first four-weeks, the girls explore their values; what and who are important to them, what they believe in, and what they stand for.
  • In the second four-weeks, girls explore team-building skills such as how to stand up for themselves, how to stop a gossip chain, and how to be a good listener—the outcome being a strong sense of connectedness with teammates.
  • The last four-weeks outlines a host of ways they can speak up, use their voice, and change the world. During this time, they design and implement their very own community project.

And of course, they run! They train through playing topic-related games for a 5k run at the conclusion of the 12 weeks.

The program is a lot more than a running program. A perfect example of someone who gained so much from our program is Delila.

She was in fourth grade and had recently been adopted. In her young life, she already dealt with a significant amount of abuse and neglect. Most noticeable was the fact that she didn’t talk. It’s not that she didn’t know how—it’s that she wouldn’t talk. Talking, where she came from, only got you in trouble. Using your voice and speaking up for yourself, expressing your fears, your tears, or your emotions only got you no where.

Delila was in Girls on the Run. I had the privilege to be her coach. Typically, after each game, we have a processing period—an opportunity for the girls to relate the experience of the game to some real life situation. Going around our circle of 17, I would come to Delila. And each day, Delila would nervously shake her head, look to the ground and we would move on to the next girl in the circle. The first week, one of the other girls said fondly “Oh, that’s just Delila, she never talks.” But as the weeks went on, Delila kept coming back. She kept showing up and she kept shaking her head.

She couldn’t talk, but girl, could Delila run. She communicated her moods, her feelings, her thoughts by how her body moved through space. When she was mad, her feet would slam the pavement, her stride choppy, her blonde hair would sporadically rise and fall with each step. But when she was right with the world, for that one hour of her life, she would float across the asphalt, each step tapping the pavement, ever so lightly, her arms relaxed at her side and her blonde hair flowing in a stream behind her.

But the girl had no voice.

The last night of the program we had our Girls on the Run Banquet. Every girl receives her very own award, based on what makes each girl special. Katherine won the “Smile With The Red Face” award. Anna won the “Loyal To Her Friends Award.” Takia won the “Cool Cat” award.

I gave Delila the “Grand Communicator” award—for communicating on a level that surpasses anything worldly. She could communicate with her body, the strike of her step, the look in her eye, and the smile on her face.

When I called Delila up to receive her award—she slowly moved to take her place next to me. And out of her back pocket she pulled out a small card. With a nod of her head she handed it to me and I opened it. And as I opened it, her face lit up. She knew that today was special, today something different would happen. Today, Delila would find her voice. I asked her if she would like to read what she wrote. That brave little girl closed her eyes tight, dug deep, and read her very own words to all of her friends in Girls on the Run and their families. Oh the sound of her sweet voice, like music through the room. “Dear Molly, the word I wanted to say on the last day of Girls on the Run was Love.”

Delila got her voice back that day. Somewhere it had been lost or taken. But on this day, Delila took it back. And I along with her friends had the privilege to witness her courage, her fear, and her RIGHT to use her voice in whatever way she chose and with whatever words she wanted.

So ask me if Girls on the Run is a running program and I will answer yes….and a whole lot more. Girls on the Run celebrates girls from start to finish and everywhere in between.

Molly Barker is the Founder of Girls on the Run International, a non-profit prevention program that encourages preteen girls to develop self-respect and healthy lifestyles through running.

 

Content last reviewed November 12, 2007
Page last updated October 31, 2013

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health.

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