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  • Anna Hanstveit

Running organization builds girls' self-confidence

Photo courtesy of Girls on the Run

Girls on the Run is a national nonprofit organization designed to build girls' self-worth and help them feel greater confidence in themselves. The organization was first established in 1996, in Charlotte, North Carolina. What was started by 13 brave girls now serves more than 200,000 girls annually and is found in every state in America.

"As the girl who was bad at making friends, I was that person in the crowd. Then, I joined Girls on the Run. It changed my life. Now, I have people who understand me. I love my life because of Girls on the Run,” said Colleen, a 9-year-old from the program.

By using activities, the organization helps girls recognize their personal strengths and teach them how to stand up for themselves and others.

“The point of Girls on the Run is to build their confidence and show that who they are is just enough,” said Kristen Skladd, board secretary for Girls on the Run Palm Beach.

It is a three-month-long program for girls in elementary school or middle school. During this time, they do exercises designed to boost their confidence, make themselves feel good about their decisions and see all of the good things about their personalities. At the end of the program, they run a 5K race.

“It’s about so much more than running -- building their confidence is the focus,” said Skladd.

Diane Evans, council director, is responsible for planning programs throughout Palm Beach County.

“During the three-month program, the girls have a 20-lesson curriculum. Each lesson has a different topic, which presents self-team and community, and we create running into the program,” said Evans.

The program also includes a service project that the girls choose, plan and complete. One example would be beautifying their school by planting flowers.

The program has been extremely successful. "We have heard so many girls say that having this program in their lives has made so much difference," Skladd added.

The girls are self-conscious, trying to figure out who they are, who they want to be and who their friends are. Some girls come into the program afraid to talk to others, fearful of tests or even stressed about social situations.

“Whatever it might be, none of the girls had the confidence to do it,” said Skladd.

Instead of leaving the program with the same negative outlook, according to Skladd, girls say, “Hey, I can do this -- I have made so many friends, I have run this 5K race and I can do anything I want.”

“It is very common to hear something like "You run like a girl," so we want them to be confident about that. Yes, you run like a girl, but that’s not a bad thing. Challenging the negative stereotypes the girls hear growing up is very important,” Evans on the stereotypes that girls face.

One of the coaches mentioned Kayla, a girl who recently joined the program.

“She is a bright and outgoing girl but struggled with body image and self-esteem. She often compared herself to others and felt insecure about her appearance. The program's lesson about self-acceptance really resonated with her and she began to appreciate her unique qualities," one coach mentioned.

Even though the project has had great success, there are some challenges. Most locals have never heard about the organization. Skladd simply wishes for more program recognition among the community. The challenge is to raise awareness of the program, not just to the parents and girls, but to teachers and principals as well.

“I want people to get an understanding that we are not just a running club,” Evans said.

At the end of the program, Kayla said, “Girls on the Run helped me see that my worth isn’t based on how I look or what other people think of me. I’m learning to love myself just the way I am, and that feels really empowering.” By Anna Hanstveit

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