Running has many health benefits, but Girls on the Run, a program overseen by Magee-Womens Hospital, uses the activity to help empower girls throughout the region.
The after-school program was designed to build confidence and character in young girls through running. It offers two different tracks, one for elementary school girls in grades 3 through 5, and a middle school track called Heart and Soul. Over the course of 10 weeks, participants train with volunteer coaches who teach proper running techniques along with valuable life skills, all of which prepares them for a 5K.
“A lot of [the girls] come in thinking they’re not capable of running that far, and pretty much every single participant finishes the 5K,” says Girls on the Run program coordinator Ellen Giarrusso.
The girls also learn how to care for themselves and others, create positive connections, and make meaningful contributions back to society.
Founded in 1996 by avid runner and four-time Hawaii Ironman triathlete Molly Barker, Girls on the Run has grown from its humble roots in Charlotte, North Carolina to an international nonprofit that serves more than one million girls and families.
The Pittsburgh Girls on the Run chapter started 16 years ago after organizers read about the event in an issue of Runner’s World magazine. The program now serves around 1,300 area girls each year.
Between 350 and 400 girls will participate in the next 5K on December 4, 2016 at North Park.
They continue to reach out to more participants by working with area schools and recreational centers such as the JCC, the Community & Recreation Center at Boyce Mayview Park, and the Lauri Ann West Community Center in Fox Chapel.
Giarusso says they also raise awareness about their organization through the Sneaker Bash. The annual fundraising gala helps girls who are unable to afford the program fees.
“We don’t want to turn a girl away for financial reasons,” says Giarrusso, who serves as Sneaker Bash committee chair. “We do a lot of fundraising throughout the year to make sure we have money to cover those costs.”
She adds that more than 35 percent of participants receive financial assistance.
The 12th annual Sneaker Bash will take place on Friday, October 21. The event will honor the 20th anniversary of Girls on the Run international with an appearance by WPXI reporter and Girls on the Run coach, Jennifer Tomazic. It will also feature the winner of an essay contest titled What Were You Born to Do?, which, as Giarrusso explains, asks their young runners to “tap into their goals in life and how Girls on the Run can help them achieve it.”