Giving Girls A Running Head Start

Photo by Emily Weiss; courtesy of GOTR DC

Nonprofit aims to inspire young girls to have fun being healthy.

Written by: Sabrina Grotewold

Girls on the Run (GOTR) is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to inspire girls from third to eighth grade to develop healthy habits, embrace exercise and become more confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum that creatively integrates training for a 5K.

GOTR DC is an independent council of Girls on the Run International, which was founded in 1996 by Ironman triathlete Molly Barker. Today, nearly 180 councils exist across the United States and Canada, with new locations added each year. While each council shares the same mission, vision and challenges—including a steady stream of volunteers and funds—each group is unique by virtue of its location and enrollment.

Here, GOTR DC Executive Director Betsy Hammond-Chambers discusses how GOTR DC not only changed her life, but also how the council’s location plays a vital impact on the international organization.

Photo: Emily Weiss, courtesy of GOTR DC

When did you start running?

I call myself an adult-onset runner. I started running about six years ago and fell in love with it because it is an empowering sport and you can do it anywhere.

How did you become involved with Girls on the Run?

I coached for four seasons starting in 2008 and, during my fourth season, the organization was looking for an executive director. At the time, I was a stay-at-home mom and I’d been out of the workforce for 10 years. GOTR offered me the position and, I thought, if there was anything that was going to get me back into the workforce, it was this. I was just so empowered by the work, the girls and the program. I came on in January 2010 as the executive director of the Washington DC council.

Can you give us a synopsis of your day-to-day duties as the executive director?

Most of what I do is fundraise. We benefit hugely from being a part of the national council. We’ve developed great partnerships with the Pacers running stores, and they help us with our 5K races.

When I came on, I was the first paid staff, so that’s when we started growing by leaps and bounds to raise funding to grow programmatically.

I still coach; I take one afternoon a week at one of the sites and I coach. When I talk to coaches about what their needs are, I understand them because I’m doing it. And it’s empowering for me to have that connection.

Please tell us how the DC council got started and what the group is like.

We started in 2006 with 21 girls; this past year, we served almost 1,300 girls. We’re growing at a rate of about 20 percent per season. We have a really high scholarship rate and are very diverse. The areas of the city where there’s most demand are the low-income areas.

How do you promote the group and has it grown organically?

The program grows by word of mouth, so some of the sites come to us because they’ve heard about the program through other people. We also work with the DC public school system and DC charter board to identify schools that they feel could benefit from the program, and we reach out to those schools. Sometimes it’s teachers who come to us, but sometimes it’s parents, too.

In 2006 during our first season, we had one team in ward 3, which is the wealthiest ward in the district. By the fall of 2009, we had our first team east of the Anacostia River. This season, we’ll have 15. We’re now in all eight wards.

In addition to training to run a 5K at the end of the season, what else do girls learn in the program?

The curriculum is divided into three sections: the first centers on the girls getting to know themselves, the next focuses on the girls’ relationships to their peers—such as lessons on bullying and gossiping, etc.—and finally the girls discuss their relationships to the world at large. In this last section, conversation explores topics like how girls are portrayed in the media, and it’s also when the girls develop their community service projects. There are 24 lessons total in each season, and we really try to address all of the behaviors and thoughts that middle schoolers have in terms of body image and feeling like they have to conform to what their friends want them to conform to … the idea is that the program starts tackling those issues in third grade, before the girls even get exposed to them in school.

The training run also incorporates a game, but it builds in running laps so the girls are playing while they’re running.

In what ways can the community help GOTR?

We have so many volunteer needs—some require more time and commitment than others, like coaching, but there are some that ask for only a one-day commitment, like volunteering on race day. If anybody is able and interested in helping, please contact Kristen Komlosy, our program director, at Kristen@gotrdc.org.

Fundraising is another huge way community members can support our initiatives. The SoleMates program is comprised of adult runners who raise funds to support GOTR—we have a charity partnership with the Rock n’ Roll National Marathon, Half Marathon and Relay. We are hoping to get 50 or more runners raising funds for our scholarship participants and have a lot to offer in exchange: a free entry, free training program, tech tee, thank you gift, pre-race dinner, bi-weekly newsletters and a tent at the Start/Finish line with food, water, etc. We are just finalizing the SoleMates registration page with an additional button specific to the National Marathon.

People will also soon be able to go to our front page an see how they can support an entire team of girls for 1 season by securing pledges form friends and family without being a runner in a race.  It will be a Razoo Team Sponsorship button that goes up in a few weeks.

How is the DC council unique?

We’re different because of the fact that we’re located in the capital; we can be an example of all of the things Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity campaign promotes. We have a close relationship with the Let’s Move campaign and the Department of Health and Human Services. We had the director of the Let’s Move campaign and the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition at our last 5K. The relationship we have with these folks really helps all of the other councils.

When is the fall 5K?

Our next 5K is Dec. 4 at American University.

Visit GOTR DC for additional information.

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