How Girls on the Run impacts girls and communities

by Jill Shenkel Henwood

Empowerment, Responsibility, Intentionality, Diversity, Connectedness, Joy, Optimism, Gratitude, Nurturing, Healthy, Open-hearted, Compassion

I am surrounded by girls – I have three daughters, two dogs and three cats – all female, and I run Girls on the Run – an organization that works with girls and has predominantly female coaches.  I am all in for empowering girls – of all ages.  “Empowerment” is a word I love, and it is the first word in a list of words that reflect the values and characteristics we work to develop in girls through Girls on the Run (GOTR). I look over the list, and as I work with coaches and parents, and listen to the news of the world each day, I must say that I think the list of words applies to all of us – girls and boys, of all ages.

em·pow·er·ment  (əmˈpouərmənt/)  –  the process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights.

My personal definition, like the dictionary definition above but with a positive twist –  has always been my guiding philosophy in my work – as an educator, coach and with GOTR – helping young people develop the skills and abilities they need to positively impact their world.

While I would like everyone to be positively empowered, we are certainly not there yet.  But we must start somewhere – and we are starting with girls, primarily in 3rd – 5th grade.  As a part of a larger national organization, GOTR is blessed to have some larger resources at our fingertips for many aspects of our programming, including evaluation.  And we are very excited to share results about the first longitudinal study of GOTR programs.  While the study was done at the national level, we have conducted recent local evaluation with similar results.  GOTR works – with proven results in many facets of girl empowerment.  The comment from 9 -year-old Colleen probably sums up the impact of GOTR best:

“If you are a girl who is bad at making friends and you sit alone each day…. that was me. I was the person out of 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 GOTR.

We are excited to share that the results of an independent study, conducted by leading youth development expert Dr. Maureen R. Weiss, reinforce personal stories such as Colleen’s and provide compelling evidence that participating in Girls on the Run results in lasting, transformative change.

This groundbreaking study found that 97% of girls learned critical life skills at Girls on the Run—including managing emotions, resolving conflict, helping others or making intentional decisions—that they are using at home, at school, and with their friends.  As one parent shared, “She has learned that she is important and loved just the way she is. She has also learned positive ways to interact with peers and how to handle difficult situations.”

In addition to learning critical life skills, the study showed that Girls on the Run inspired a long-term impact that positively changed girls during the program and beyond.  In fact, 85% of girls improved in confidence, competence, caring, character or connection to others.  Girls who were the least active at the start of the season increased their physical activity level by more than 40%.   More details about the study and the results can be found by clicking here.

While empowering girls is our mission, and our programs “serve” 3rd – 8th-grade girls, GOTR empower many outside of that population subset.  We refer to it as the “trickle up” effect.  Girls take home what they learn and share it with parents and siblings, whether it be the importance of rest or other healthy habits, or how to deal with your comfortable and uncomfortable emotions.  Coaches – adults of all ages – embrace and utilize the skills we teach.  Even someone like myself with close to a half-century of experience in friendship is reminded that we can, in fact, choose our friends and decide to stick with those that make us feel strong and confident, not those that bring us down.  We need to be reminded that things we say – or post – just like toothpaste once it is squeezed out – can never be taken back.  The lessons, and values, in GOTR, can apply to all of us.

I look forward to sharing with you in future posts how the lessons we use to empower girls in GOTR can be applied to all of us, regardless of our age or gender, to make our world a healthier and better place.

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