Girls on the Run helps build self-esteem in young ladies
Plenty of people run 5K races on the weekends. Some kids have families who participate for fun, and some even do so competitively.
It’s not only these families who will take part in the Girls on the Run 5K on Sunday, Dec. 3, at South Hagerstown High School, but also some who are traditionally less likely to do so.
That’s because Girls on the Run is a nonprofit program geared for girls in grades three through eight to help them develop self-respect and healthy lifestyles through interactive lessons and running games that culminate in a celebratory 5K run.
Julie Quelet, program director for Girls on the Run of Mid-Maryland, said each of the girls who participate will have an adult “running buddy” — a parent, teacher, coach, friend or family member.
“We get a lot of girls who get their families involved,” Quelet said.
One girl started the program in need of a running buddy, as neither of her parents was active or fit at the time, Quelet said. A teacher ran with the child her first year, but the girl’s mother was inspired to get involved the next season.
“The little girl came back to the program so excited. Her mom trained with her and finished the 5K with her and the Girls on the Run girls,” Quelet said.
Her third year, the girl’s father trained with her and completed the run.
“The girls learn so much from the lessons and take what they are learning home to their families,” Quelet said. “It starts a little spark. People think, ‘If my daughter can run this 5K, then I can do it too.’ It’s really motivating for all the family members, which is just awesome.”
She said the program is designed to reach girls “before the critical teen years” when peer pressure and complex decisions often hit hard.
“We try to reach elementary-age girls and teach them skills in choosing friends, being confident in who they are, in their uniqueness,” she said. “We teach them to celebrate what makes them different from their peers, and also about connectedness with other girls in their age group.”
The range of ages between third and eighth grades also allows opportunities for younger girls to look up to older girls, and for older ones to learn to be leaders and mentors.
“We are helping them navigate their world, helping them establish health and fitness so that as they move forward, they have this positive way to relieve stress, to get enjoyment, to make friends and those types of things,” Quelet said.
Girls on the Run of Washington County, where Quelet served as executive director, recently merged with the Frederick, Md., chapter to create Girls on the Run of Mid-Maryland.
“We were both smaller counties with limited expansion potential,” Quelet said. “Now we will be more sustainable and have resources to eventually become Girls on the Run of Mid- and Western Maryland,” she said.
The group runs two 10-week sessions per year, one in fall and another in spring, with a curriculum combining health, nutrition, teamwork, communication and community service.
The Washington County group began in 2011 with a team of 13 girls at Paramount Elementary School. The second season, participation doubled, and after the first year, the group served 60 girls.
Today, there are teams at more than 20 schools in Washington County.
“We are not limited just to school,” Quelet said,” but to anywhere that has the space to hold a program and the volunteers to run it. We are involved with public schools, private schools, and youth groups.”
Now that the Washington County group has merged with Frederick, Quelet estimates that the Mid-Maryland chapter will serve more than 600 girls through the work of about 150 volunteer coaches within the year.
“We have a lot of great volunteers, a lot of great parents and teachers who step up, put in the time after school to coach,” Quelet said. “Once they get a taste of it, see how motivating it is and how encouraging it is, they are more likely to come back and do it again. We are always looking for more volunteers, more sites, and more teams.”
Sunday’s event will be non-competitive on a 3.1-mile cross-country course with two water stops.
“We will have some activities,” Quelet said. “The girls will run the race with their running buddies. We’ll encourage every girl to run her own pace. It will be a celebration of every girl.”