The power of inspiring Girls to be Joyful, Confident and Healthy
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By: Lea Rolfes, Executive Director, Girls on the Run of Atlanta
“Growing up is not always easy. Am I too short, too fat, or am I pretty enough? What makes some of us so popular and others of us not? It’s tough growing up.” Mariah, 5th Grade
Let’s face it. Very few people remember their middle school years positively. It was a turbulent, confusing time we had to get through on the way to high school. Tweens and teens test their boundaries, and try out new leadership roles as they turn away from adults and toward their peer groups. Adolescence is also negatively portrayed in the media, especially when it comes to girls. The mean girl persona permeates social media, music and movies.
At Girls on the Run, we view adolescence differently. We choose to see it as an opportunity—to help girls explore their budding interests, to use increased emotionality as a way to explore empathy and caring, and to create healthy relationships with both peers and adults. When girls are provided with a safe and structured environment where they get to know themselves better and make connections with others, they are able to contribute positively to the world around them.
Our unique curriculum at Girls on the Run combines social-emotional learning with running to build girls up and give them the tools they need to grow into healthy, confident, joyful women. Girls on the Run is about so much more than the physical benefits of exercise but the mental benefits too – stress management, self-care, body image confidence, resiliency and teamwork.
Girls on the Run lessons involve dynamic activities and running games as well as discussion, led by volunteer Coaches, where girls share and test ideas about the complex things they’re going through during this stage in their lives. As girls develop strengths individually, the team bond strengthens. They recognize they are not alone and begin to develop leadership skills and to problem solve about how they can help each other. Girls and coaches become each other’s best resource. As one 8th grade participant said, “I learned to trust myself more, know who I am, stop and think and help someone else out, even if I don’t know her.”
At the end of each season, all of the teams participate in the celebratory Girls on the Run 5K. It’s not your average running race, it’s an intentional lesson in the curriculum about goal setting and accomplishment that can be used later in life – I can do anything I set my mind to through preparation and positive thinking. As we know in our professional lives, challenges and hard work often present the best growth opportunities.
Just imagine the limitless potential of Girls on the Run girls as they reach college and career. There are no mean girls, just confidantes, collaborators and caring leaders.
As a community part of the Junior League of Atlanta, Inc. (JLA), Girls on the Run will participate in the 13th annual Shamrock N’Roll race as a part of the “Shamrock Stars” program. New this year, the JLA is transforming the phantom runner program into “Shamrock Stars,” a community outreach program where their members and community supporters sponsor a JLA community partner runner to participate in this year’s race for free. Whether you run alongside them or are out of town that weekend, your support helps broaden the community impact and strengthen ties with JLA community partners.
For more information about the event and how to get involved, visit www.shamrocknroll.org.
Girls on the Run is the only girl-centric, physical activity-based positive youth development program in the country. Girls on the Run of Atlanta is part of a network of 225 councils serving 3rd-8th grade girls in all 50 states. Here in Atlanta, more than 20,000 girls have participated in our afterschool program at 170 schools and community sites in Cobb, Fulton, DeKalb and Gwinnett Counties. This season, 1,600 girls are activating their limitless potential on 112 teams across Atlanta. We are committed to serving all girls, no matter their ability, their neighborhood, or their families’ financial situation. For more information, visit: www.girlsontherunatlanta.org and join us at our end-of-season celebratory Girls on the Run 5K on April 29 at Georgia Tech.