Girls learn life skills in after-school program

LOIS KINDLE PHOTOS
The 12 girls participating in this fall’s Girls on the Run program hosted by Kids ̓R̓ Kids Waterset take off around the track at Covington Park, where they are training for the Girls on the Run 5K Presented by UnitedHealthcare Dec. 9.

By LOIS KINDLE

Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons, a dozen girls in grades three to five head to Kids ̓R̓ Kids Waterset after school to take part in a program called Girls on the Run.

Once there, owner Carrie Elwell piles them into a bus and takes them to Covington Park, where they lace up their running shoes, enjoy a quick snack and socialize briefly with their coaches, Stephanie Fisher and Elwell.

“Girls on the Run is a youth development program for girls ages 8 to 11 where they physically train for a 5K run while learning about who they are and how to make good choices in their lives,” Elwell said. “It’s really not a running program; it’s a life-skills program.”

Elwell said the woman who started Girls on the Run in 1996 wanted to empower young ladies to make their own choices in a comfortable and trusting environment.

“My 9-year-old daughter Allison is part of the program,” she added. “It gives her a platform to talk about things like gossip and bullying that normally might not come up at home and if it did, the conversation might be short. Here, with the other girls sharing, she jumps right in.”

Elwell said her older daughter Abby still uses tools from her Girls on the Run toolbox to meet the various challenges she faces.

Elwell fell in love with the program six years ago when she saw girls crossing the finish line in a practice 5K.

“They were all so positive, so happy cheering on their last teammate to finish,” she recalled. “I decided right then I wanted to be part of this.”

This year’s group of girls from Waterset charter and Doby and Summerfield elementary schools meets from 4 to 5:30 p.m. twice weekly. They sit in a circle and discuss a subject of the day, which could include words have meaning, body image, choosing friends or standing up for others. Every girl has a chance to comment and share their personal experiences.

Coach Stephanie Fisher gives each program participant an afternoon snack before the girls begin their session activities.

The program is designed not only to prepare them physically for the 5K, it’s also about building their confidence, self-respect and self-esteem. The girls learn to think independently, manage their emotions and make healthy, intentional decisions.

After the circle, it’s time for stretching exercises and a warm-up game before heading out to do four to eight laps around the one-third-mile track.

They repeat this pattern for 10 weeks, and then participate Dec. 9 in the Girls on the Run 5K Presented by UnitedHealthcare. Each girl wears No. 1 in the race and there is no clock.

The goal isn’t about winning — it’s about moving forward, Elwell said.

“Girls on the Run Greater Tampa Bay is a n​on​​profit organization that drives transformative, sustained change in the lives of third- through fif​th-grade girls,” said Laura Moore, its executive director. ​

The organization is affiliated with Girls on the Run International, which has more than 200 locations throughout the country and Canada.

“Since 2014, we have grown from serving about 100 girls per season to currently serving more than 600 girls at 40 locations across Greater Tampa Bay.

“We teach critical life skills to girls at a critical moment in their lives, and we do so in a positive setting,” Moore continued. “If I had to sum up our program in one word, it would be “‘joyful.’”

For more information on Girls on the Run, visit www.girlsontheruntampabay.org or call 813-832-2826.

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