Guest post by Courtney Keeney, senior at Sonoma State University and a coach for Girls on the Run Sonoma County.
The clock strikes 3pm. A flock of young girls rush out of the classroom doors, fill up their water bottles and munch down a tasty snack from the lunch Mom packed that day. The youngsters can hardly wait for the program to begin. Sporting their bright seasonal colored Girls on the Run t-shirts, with running shoes laced, hair tied back and energy levels rising out of the roof, the feeling of being a part of a team and working towards a goal is an apparent form of excitement for these young girls.
With the mission “to educate and prepare girls for a lifetime of self-respect and healthy living”, Girls on the Run Sonoma County reaches out to nearly twenty elementary schools and clubs in the local community. As a non-profit prevention program, Girls on the Run touches the lives of countless 3rd through 6th grade girls in the most pivotal years of their development.
After school, twice a week, the young girls come together with their team and two dedicated volunteer coaches to participate in interactive curriculum, addressing real life issues such as dealing with body image and the media, resisting peer pressure and making healthy decisions-while incorporating running and hands on activities.
“The energy, excitement, and how proud they feel is so emotionally inspiring”, said Strawberry Valley Elementary School Girls on the Run coach Shelly Bolander.
Bolander is in her second season at Strawberry Valley Elementary School and stands behind the program with all her heart.
“The program has an incredible message of being active at a young age, which is very important. Girls on the Run is the perfect balance of exercise, fun, and education”.
Any girl can benefit from the program and learn to work as a team. Don’t let the name scare you away. Participants in the program do not have to be strong runners. Running, walking, jogging, skipping; any form of exercise will do as long as movement is involved.
According to Bolander, the curriculum is very valuable and touches on extremely important life issues these girls will soon be faced with in their process of maturation.
Discussing difficult topics, addressing and confronting tough issues, learning the importance of respect and compassion for one another, admiring good role models, and understanding how to stand up for themselves are only a few positive perks the program instills in these young innocent minds.
At the end of this twelve week program, each girl has a goal to complete a non-competitive 5K run/walk event.
In her two seasons of coaching, Bolander remembers two particular youngsters that stand out in her mind, which were positively impacted by the program in a huge way.
“I had two girls struggling with their weight; they had a hard time committing at first. However, once that 5K event came around, these girls fought the hardest. Their determination shined through and they completed every last step of that run.”
Accomplishments such as these make this program very beneficial to not only the children, but also the supportive adult role models. Stepping aside from their busy lives to volunteer four hours a week to these young children, speaks volumes.
Girls on the Run participants will complete a community service project, volunteer at a local race and complete a 5K event in November to round up the season.
Empowered with a greater self-awareness, sense of achievement and a foundation in team building to help them become strong and confident young women, Girls on the Run Sonoma County strives to make an impact in the life of girls everywhere…one step at a time.