Crossing the 5K finish line Annette Tanori of Ahwatukee Foothills beamed with pride, but it wasn't for herself. A volunteer "running buddy" for Girls on the Run (GOTR), a national non-profit organization that promotes self-respect and healthy living in girls, Tanori ran alongside 7-year-old Victoria Armstrong.
"It was great to be able to share such a memorable experience with Victoria and her family," Tanori said.
In response to pressures girls face as they enter adolescence, Girls on the Run encourages girls in third through eighth grades to make empowered good choices, appreciate their bodies and increase confidence in their own voice. The organization is picking up speed across the nation, partnering with sponsors like New Balance and Goody.
Locally, Girls on the Run of Maricopa County is featured in 24 sites, including four Kyrene district schools: Manitas, Cielo, Colina, and now, Esperanza. A Parent's Information Night is set to begin at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 31 in Esperanza's school library, 14841 S. 41st Place, for anyone interested in learning more about GOTR.
"About the time girls hit fifth grade, they go into what we call the ‘girl box,'" said Julie Rose, council director for Girls on the Run of Maricopa County. "They feel pressure to dress, look and behave a certain way."
Rose said GOTR's mission is to teach every girl to embrace her unique qualities as an individual, while making respectful, healthy decisions.
"Twice each week, our volunteer coaches lead the girls through games and exercises that build their endurance," Rose said. "But while they're running, they're learning to listen, cooperate and express themselves as we foster discussions. We use an evidenced based curriculum that helps them to navigate the issues they're facing, such as coping with peer pressure, friendship issues and body image."
Women and girls aren't the only ones signing on to advance GOTR's mission. Gabriel Hernandez of Ahwatukee Foothills, himself a father to four sons, volunteers his time with GOTR.
"When I speak with school administrators, I always say, ‘I can't tell you what goes through the mind of an 8-year-old girl ... what I can tell you is that this program works,'" Hernandez said. "I've participated in and helped coordinate our 5K events, and I'm always amazed at the look on the faces of these young girls as they finish."
The 10-week curriculum costs $150 per student and also includes a sliding scale. Though the program is fee based, no girl is ever turned away for financial reasons, and last year GOTR awarded about $30,000 in scholarships. The fee includes three hours of lesson time each week with healthy snacks; a T-shirt, water bottle, 5K race registration and medal; and a celebration banquet for families to conclude each season.
After 10 weeks, the girls participate in a 5K (3.1 miles) race. Their goal is to simply finish, whether they walk, run or choose a combination of both.
"It's amazing to watch some of these girls who have never run before, and the confidence it gives them when they finish," Rose said.
This year's New Balance Girls on the Run 5K is planned for Dec. 12 at Kiwanis Park.
To learn more about Girls on the Run, visit www.gotrmc.org.
Ahwatukee Foothills resident Diane Meehl is a mother of three, a freelance writer and volunteer. Reach her at email@example.com.