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Girls on the Run: Making Health and Wellness Fun

Girls on the Run: Making Health and Wellness Fun

This article is one of a series about community partners supported with a Valley Health Community Impact Grant.

Take fun warm-up exercises and a lap or two of running, add in a pep talk about friendship, wellness, or another tween-friendly topic, and top off with lots of giggles … and you have all the elements that make a local meeting of Girls on the Run (GOTR) a huge success!

“Girls on the Run is a national, nonprofit organization that combines social/emotional learning for girls in grades 3-5 with exercise and friendship -- and the glue that holds it all together is running,” says Allison Major, former Council Director, Girls on the Run of the Shenandoah Valley, which serves girls from Berkeley Springs and Romney in WV to Harrisonburg, VA.

During the weekly sessions, GOTR-trained volunteer coaches offer lessons on peer pressure, choosing friends wisely, anti-bullying, and honoring each person’s uniqueness. The girls also learn about the importance of community, and each group plans a community impact project as a way of giving back. Of course, all of the “serious stuff” is presented in an engaging and fun manner, with lots of physical fitness activities – including running -- mixed in.

Finally, to celebrate each successful program year, the Shenandoah Valley Council holds two 5k’s at the end of each season, one in Winchester and one in Harrisonburg, where hundreds of local girls participate with their “running buddy”. Running Buddies are adults (family members, friends, teaches, coaches, community volunteers) who run the whole 5k with their girl to encourage them and keep them safe on the course. This event offers every participant the chance to achieve a new “personal best” in ability, endurance … and self-esteem. The Girls on the Run 5k’s are open to the public and are fun, family-friendly, feel-good events that help generate funds for future scholarships for girls.

“Pre-COVID we had 600-700 girls participating in teams across the region, but when the pandemic impacted our 2020 spring session, the girls took their lessons online,” Major adds. “But last fall we started up again with teams that met 100% virtually and other teams that met in person with socially-distanced meetings held outdoors. We hope to have 18 teams this spring!”

Several Valley Health outreach programs target local youth because our team knows healthy habits developed early often last a lifetime. GOTR’s focus on wellness and exercise makes the organization a natural fit for a VHS Community Impact Grant, ensuring that local teams have resources for scholarships and other projects.

“We never turn away any girl who wishes to participate, even if she can’t afford the registration fee,” Major continues. “Valley Health has been a great supporter of the local organization since 2011, which gives us funding so we are empowered to empower the girls.”

The spring session begins this month. To learn more about registration or serving as a team coach, visit girlsontheruns.org or contact Annoica Ingram, Executive Director at annoica.ingram@girlsontherun.org or 540-431-5320.