Unsure about reaching a goal? Add a coach and see the difference it makes. Add community support and it gets better. Believe in yourself and it’s the best.
In a nutshell, that’s the idea behind Girls on the Run, a nationwide program for girls in third- through fifth-grade that was introduced in Homer 10 weeks ago and wraps up its first session with a 5K community run Nov. 9.
The program began in 1996 in Charlotte, N.C., as a way to “inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running,” according to the program’s website.
Girls on the Run serves more than 130,000 girls across the country with the help of more than 55,000 volunteers. With an Alaska council active in Anchorage and Juneau, Homer joined the effort this fall. Start-up funds for the local group was provided by the Alaska council, as well as the Rotary Club of Homer Downtown and Homer-Kachemak Bay Rotary Club.
The first local session has included eight girls, all of whom attend West Homer Elementary School, and four volunteer coaches.
“Girls on the Run has a lot of great benefits to the participants,” said Tara Schmidt, an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer coordinating the program through Haven House. “The primary one is that it gives a safe space to talk.”
Topics during the twice-a-week practice sessions include peer pressure, positive self-image and other issues sometimes difficult to discuss. Making it easier is a fun, game-type format.
“The program gives them skills that, as they grow into young women and adults, will be critical in their development of making decisions, being self-confident, making healthy choices and exercising regularly,” said Schmidt.
Practice sessions are at West Homer Elementary School from 3:30-5 p.m. Monday and Wednesday. Volunteering as coaches are Christine Bubar, Annie Ridgley, Sherry Stead and Melody Ramsey. Molly Mitchell, a Homer High School student and runner on the school’s cross country team, also is helping with the coaching, as is Schmidt. Training materials for the coaches are provided by Girls on the Run.
“I think this is a great program. It boosts the girls’ confidence and self-esteem by a ton,” said Ramsey, who began running while in high school and picked up the activity again several years ago during a stressful time in her life. She can frequently be seen on Homer’s running trails covering a three- to five-mile distance.
When girls in the Homer program learned the session ended with a 5K event, “a couple said ‘no way,’” said Ramsey, who reduced the goal to smaller, achievable steps.
“I’d say, ‘Run to the next stop sign’ or ‘Run to the next street sign,’ and they’d usually make those goals. It’s cool to have your small goals. That’s a great way for people to start.”
Stead became a coach “because I think the girls having a positive body image is very important for healthy development,” she said. “The girls learn to push themselves to reach physical goals as well as teaching life skills that will benefit them as they go through their formative years.”
Girls on the Run recruitment for the fall session in Homer focused on West Homer Elementary School students. The spring session will expand the program to include girls from other schools.
“We want to be as inclusive as possible, but this first session we needed to figure out what we were doing,” Schmidt said of starting small.
Applying that inclusive theme to the Nov. 9 community run, Schmidt encouraged community participation, either as entrants or as support before, during and after the event.
“We are encouraging people to bring families, to cheer, to support the participants,” she said.
“We’ll have tables where people can make signs so even if they’re not participating in the race, they can be there to cheer on the girls and family members.”
Kathryn Utley, the “glitter fairy,” will be on hand to add some sparkle to the event.
Community members also can register as “running buddies,” to run beside the girls and “help them with their journey. That way there’s no girl left behind,” said Schmidt. “It helps overcome the emotional burden or let’s them know OK, maybe you’re not running, maybe you’re walking, but you’re moving and that’s pretty awesome.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Homer on the Run Community 5K
Proceeds benefit Girls on the
Why: Educating and inspiring girls for a lifetime of self-respect and healthy living.
For: All ages, male and female; runners, walkers, strollers, dog-walkers.
When: Registration and pre-race fun begins at 11 a.m., Nov. 9; run begins at noon.
Where: Starting line is at Homer United Methodist Church, continues along East End Road to the 5K halfway point, returns to finish line at Homer United Methodist Church.
Fee: Registration $25 for ages 18 and older; free for 17 and younger.
Needed: Running buddies, volunteers.