As you know, I highlight local businesses that may be of interest to young families. I select businesses that will help your family grow naturally and on your terms because each one is truly unique and there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to raising your children.    Today, however, I am not featuring a business.  I am so very excited to share with you a non-profit organization that has become near and dear to my heart in the last year: Girls on the Run.

Girls on the Run

What is Girls on the Run?

It is NOT about running!  Girls on the Run (GOTR) is a ten-week program for girls in 3-8 grade.  They meet twice a week for 90 minutes after school.  Teams have 8-15 girls with three volunteers, certified coaches.  The interactive lessons focus on understanding yourself, valuing relationships, building teamwork and confidence, and connecting with the world.  Games and running are incorporated into the lesson to inspire and motivate goal setting and healthy habits.  At the end of each season, the coaches, girls, and their adult running buddy complete a 5K, giving all participates a feeling of accomplishment.

girls and adults start running at Girls on the Run, Kitsap, WA

In the Beginning

Girls on the Run started in 1996 in North Carolina with 13 girls.  Needless to say, it has grown exponentially from there, with 225 chapters across the US and over 700,000 girls served!  I met with Leslie Hughes, program manager for Girls on the Run of West Sound (our local chapter), to learn more about the behind the scenes of what makes this program amazing.  Girls on the Run came to Kitsap County because of Rachel Bearbower.  Rachel was raised here but moved to Boston to work in the financial industry.  Looking for somewhere to volunteer, she found GOTR and fell in love with it.  After getting burnt out in the financial world, Rachel returned to Kitsap and set to work bringing the inspirational program to our community.  After meeting Leslie through a mutual friend, they began to gather board members, partner with schools, and train coaches.  In 2014, their first year, they had six teams and 92 girls participate.

girl running at Girls on the Run Kitsap fundraiser

Today

In 2018 Girls on the Run of West Sound was at 29 locations and had over 400 girls participate!  Bigger than they ever imagined!  The board, which was originally mostly Rachel’s former teachers and coaches, has become a group of “fierce, kind, powerful” women with diverse backgrounds, interests, ages, and abilities.    Rachel has taken a short leave of absence to pursue her dream of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail with her dog to inspire all the young girls to dream big, do big, and live out your dreams.  You can follow her experiences here.

Girls on the Run has expanded, not just in locations, but also in what it offers.  They now have three different curriculums so girls can participate in multiple seasons without duplicate material.  The lessons/values taught are similar, but presented in different ways.  Heart and Sole is their middle school program for girls in grades 6-8.  Adolescence is such a confusing time!  Heart and Sole builds on the principles of GOTR and relates them directly to this age group.  There are currently two Heart and Sole teams in the West Sound chapter.  Camp GOTR is a week-long day camp with all the fun of GOTR and summer camp combined.  The West Sound chapter is working on bringing this to the area.  Stay tuned!father and daughter give thumbs up at Girls on the Run. Kitsap

Commitment

The last big change for Girls on the Run of West Sound is starting next school year (2018-2019), they will only be offering one spring season, opposed to fall and spring.  As you can imagine, participating in Girls on the Run is no small commitment for anyone.  In the fall, coaches, who are typically teachers, are busy getting ready for school, have GOTR training, meeting with the girls twice a week, and then it is the holidays.  Having only the spring season will give all of their awesome volunteers a well-deserved break.

It is not just board members and coaches making a commitment to GOTR though.  Participating in GOTR is a whole family commitment! Families are provided a booklet that summarizes each lesson and gives conversation starters to continue the lesson at home.  It also gives parents a training guides for varying abilities to get them ready for the 5K at the end of the season.  While families are not required to complete the 5K with their girl, each girl does need a running buddy.

girls and women cross finish line at Girls on the Run Kitsap, WA

A running buddy runs beside his/her girl during the 5K.  He/She is there to support and encourage her the whole way.  I do have to say, on a personal note, seeing dads and big brothers donning a pink tutu with a rainbow painted on their face scoop up their daughter/sister in a big hug as they cross the finish line chokes me up every time.

At the 5K, the girls are surrounded by hundreds of people showing their commitment to each one of them.  As they complete the 5K, they are cheered on by their coaches, teammates, family, running buddies, and complete strangers.  The finish line is a very powerful place to be as the girls reach their goals.  For me, it is not the ones at the beginning that are the most impressive, but the ones at the end: the girl with braces on her legs that walked the whole way, or the one that wanted to quit halfway but her teammates ran back down the course to complete it with her.

Leslie explained to me that every racing bib is #1.  It is not a competition; each girl is running her own race. Through GOTR, these girls are learning commitment to themselves and the indescribable, heart exploding feeling of reaching a goal all while being celebrated by those closest to them.

Woman with arm around girl while doing Girls on the Run

Support

Of course a program this involved does not come without costs.  It costs $480 per girl to cover all the expenses.  This includes background checks for every volunteer, training for coaches, site fees, snacks, water, T-shirts, and more.   However, the ten-week season only costs a family $165.  In addition, GOTR provides very generous scholarships and will not turn anyone away.  The West Sound chapter gave away $34,000 in scholarships last year alone.

Needless to say, GOTR is extremely grateful for their national and local sponsors and to the countless individuals that donate.  One national sponsor Leslie told me about is Asics.  Asics offers heavily discounted shoes to GOTR, allowing them to meet this need for any of their girls.  Leslie said there have been times they even provided shoes to the entire team.   Locally, they have started a “giving closet” to provide running clothes to any participating girl in need.

Girls on the Run of West Sound has one big fundraiser: a Run-a-thon, of course.  They also participate in the Kitsap Great Give.  Individuals can donate to their favorite registered non-profits and have funds matched by local sponsors.  The best gift given to GOTR is the continued support from the local community.

Solemates are individuals reaching their own physical fitness goals while raising money for GOTR.  Locally there are several people completing the Ragnar Rainier while bringing awareness and funds to Girls on the Run of West Sound.  Click here to find out more about the current Solemates.

When Rachel returns from her big adventure, they will have a fundraising welcome home party where she will be sharing more about her experience. 

How You Can Help                                             

GOTR is always in need of its most important asset—You!

Coaches are in high demand.  Above I said they are typically teachers, however, this is not a requirement!  Coaches range from high schoolers to retirees, and from tri-athletes to those just beginning to exercise.  Leslie says they often hear, “I need to lose 20 pounds first.”  To that she says, “No!  It’s not about running.  It’s about inspiring young girls and being present for them.  They will not wait… All the time, coaches tell us they got as much out of it as the girls.”

If coaching is too big of a commitment at this time, being a running buddy is a good option.  Sometimes a girl is unable to find a running buddy of her own for the 5K, and GOTR will help match her up with a volunteer.  Girls and running buddies are paired based on running ability so if a walk/slow jog is more your pace, not a problem.  Again, GOTR is not about running!

Still unsure?  You can volunteer to assist with one of the many activities at the 5K: decorating hair, nails, face, and racing bibs, registration, serving food, handing out medals at the finish line, manning the parking lot.  All extra hands are appreciated! Plus you get a T-shirt. 😉

“I wish there was something like this when I was little.”

Leslie said when they visit schools, normally the first thing they hear is “I don’t like running.”  She responds, “That’s okay.  It’s actually about having fun, learning self-confidence, following your dreams, arts, crafts, and snacks.”  She said the snacks is what gets their interest.  While it does sound like a running group, which may initially turn young girls (even adults) off to the idea, the thing they hear over and over again from women that have gotten to know the program is, “I wish there was something like this when I was little.”  Leslie says this is how they know they are making a difference and how they continue to grow.

While I am a boymom and have not participated as a coach, board member, or parent, it only takes attending one event to see that Girls on the Run is a phenomenal program impacting the lives of young girls and their families.  The lessons learned at their young age carry through to middle school, high school, and beyond.  By creating caring, confident, healthy women, Girls on the Run is changing the hearts and minds of our future leaders.

To find the nearest Girls on the Run, check out their website.  To stay up to date with Girls on the Run West Sound follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

Sparkson Photography

Jennifer Jones of Sparkson Photography is a documentary style family photographer specializing in family, newborn, and school portraits. Serving Kitsap County, WA and surrounding area.

Contact me to book a session.