By adolescence, girls begin to experience faster rates of decline in physical activity levels, lower levels of confidence and perception of their academic abilities and higher rates of anxiety and depression compared to boys.
Physical activity levels among girls decline starting at age 10 and continue to decline throughout adolescence. By age 14, girls are dropping out of sports at two times the rates of boys, placing them at a higher risk for poor mental and physical health.
Girls on the Run is here to change that.
You might remember Girls on the Run – a nationwide nonprofit with a handful of outposts in Virginia – and its semiannual 5K races from when you were younger. However, Girls on the Run is so much more than a running club. At its core, the mission of GOTR is to inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and competent; to create a world where every girl can achieve their full potential and competently pursue their dreams.
The nonprofit accomplishes this through a research-based, dynamic 10-week curriculum. Young girls from third grade to eighth grade meet twice a week to participate in various physical activities and engage in powerful conversations about their communities, friendships and what makes them special and unique. At the end of the 10 weeks, the team designs and executes a community impact project. And of course, the season wraps up with a celebratory 5K.
“As they develop, girls are trying to figure out who they are, who they want to be, who they want their friends to be and what kind of friend they can be,” said Catherine Estevez, executive director of Girls on the Run Greater Richmond. “Girls on the Run is about helping them stay grounded. Every lesson helps them foster confidence in themselves and navigate the world and relationships around them.”
In this day and age, there is so much social pressure on young girls, but Girls on the Run gives them a safe space to discover their “Star Power,” all while building a community and lasting friendships.
“We give them tools to help identify who they are, what their emotions are, what makes a good friend, what makes them feel comfortable and uncomfortable emotions, how they can communicate those emotions to other people and how they can stick up for themselves and others,” Estevez said. “They’re able to learn these skills in a safe space where it’s all right to try new things and to mess up sometimes. They’re setting achievable goals and that’s important to mental and physical health. With the 5K at the end of the season, they have a tangible benchmark that they’re working towards, while also building a community.”
The community impact projects that the girls develop are a huge part of the Girls on the Run curriculum. Through these projects, the girls learn how to develop a plan and execute it to get results.
The Girls on the Run team at Westover Hills Elementary made cards and inspirational posters that were sent to the pediatric ward at VCU Health. The cards were meant for sick children and new parents welcoming their babies into the world. The Westover Hills team chose this project because many of the girls bonded over knowing someone who is/was sick. The team had impactful conversations about how to uplift friends and their loved ones during difficult times. They spoke about what they would want if they were sick, and that is how their community impact project came to life.
Girls on the Run’s fall season kicked off the week of Sept. 19 and will run for 10 weeks. The season will end with a celebratory 5K on Dec. 11 at Bryan Park in partnership with the Richmond Road Runners Club.
“You see girls coming across the finish line walking, skipping and running. You literally see them accomplishing their goal,” Estevez said. “It’s a really beautiful thing to celebrate.”
October 11 is International Day of the Girl, and Girls on the Run has some exciting plans.
In the two weeks leading up to Oct. 11, it will be raising money to celebrate girls and women in Richmond who are breaking down barriers and have a deep belief in the power and potential that live within all women and girls. About half of GOTR participants receive financial assistance, so the nonprofit strives to prevent someone’s financial circumstances from being a barrier to them participating in the program.
If you or someone you know is interested in participating in Girls on the Run, there are plenty of ways to get involved. The organization is currently recruiting teammates, volunteers and coaches.
Girls on the Run has branches in Northern Virginia, Piedmont, Hampton Roads, Central Virginia and the Blue Ridge region. To find a location near you, visit its national website.
For more information on Girls on the Run in the Greater Richmond area, please visit its local website, or follow it on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Header photo provided by Girls on the Run Greater Richmond.