Social Change Story: Girls on the Run

Our Grant Partners move the needle for positive social change and gender equality.

To illuminate the grantmaking in action and the work our Grant Partners are doing for women and girls, we are bringing their stories to you.

Girls on the Run (GOTR) of Central Ohio educates girls in grades 3-8 (ages 8-14) over the course of the 10 week/20 lesson program delivered by trained and supportive volunteer coaches. The program aims to develop and improve competence; feel confidence in who they are; develop strength of character; respond to self and others with care and compassion; create positive connections with peers and adults; and make meaningful contributions to community and society. These life skills prevent unhealthy and risky behaviors, such as physical inactivity and negative body image, and promote positive health outcomes (physical, mental, social, and spiritual health). The culminating event of each GOTRCO season is a noncompetitive 5 kilometer event in which the girls run, walk, skip or twirl with their volunteer coaches, family and community members. On this special day, the girls are celebrated for being confident in their bodies and minds.

To illustrate the impact of GOTR we talked to one coach and one participant from Pleasant View Middle School.

Coach Kathleen Wheeler

Destiny Plummer, 8th Grader

1)   Why does Girls on the Run matter to you?

Coach Wheeler: I care about GOTR because it makes me feel proud to help girls find success while I share my love for running. I am a mother of three, two of whom are girls. I teach middle school,  love running, and as a mother and teacher I want to make sure every girl knows she’s worth it. GOTR gives girls the tools to see this worth.  As a runner, “I know the secret that runners know” and I get to share the secret with my girls.

Destiny: I care about this program because I believe every girl deserves to find out who they are and how to be more confident in themselves.

2)    What value does GOTR bring to your life?

Coach Wheeler: The value that GOTR brings is twofold. I am able to bring a positive experience to a group of young women. I help them see that success is possible and that they are amazing people. The other side is what I have learned from the program.  While leading my girls through the curriculum, I get reminders to keep balance in my own life.

Destiny: The value that GOTR brings into my life is courage because I never thought I could run a 5-k with asthma.

3)    How has being part of GOTR shifted your engagement in the community? How has it shifted your perspective on girls leadership?

Coach Wheeler: GOTR has many layers of community engagement opportunities.  Simply volunteering for the program could be considered service. The curriculum requires the group to plan and participate in a service project during each season. By helping the girls plan and complete the project provides the next layer of service. Recruiting more strong women to become involved with GOTR could also be considered a type of community engagement. GOTR provides a way to find just the right balance of being involved in the community.

Destiny: GOTR has shifted my engagement in the community by shoveling snow, help pack up my neighbors garage sails when they’re struggling or when they just need help, and watching my neighbor’s kids when they’re riding their bikes. It has shifted my perspective on girls leadership because I just thought they were born into their roles but instead they work their hardest for their dreams.

4)    Why do you think it’s important to instill leadership in girls?

Coach Wheeler: As a science teacher, I often observe my female students saying “I can’t do science because I’m a girl.”  Girls should not see being a girl as a roadblock.  Girls should have the confidence to go for their dreams. My parents helped instill this in me.  In my nursery they hung a sign that says, “Girls Can Do Anything.” I kept that sign up in my room, even as a teenager.  The sign now hangs in my daughters’ room.  My husband and I often point out the sign to the girls and say the words out loud to them.

Destiny: I think it’s important to instill leadership in girls so that they can believe they can accomplish anything they put their minds to.

5)    What is your favorite day/memory of the program?

Coach Wheeler: I have many wonderful memories of GOTR. Even the training meetings are inspiring!  My favorite memory occurred just last year.  One of the girls on our team was also in my science class. She struggled a lot socially as well as academically. She often had emotional breakdowns during the school day. Although she portrayed herself as being confident, she really did not believe in herself. She showed up for the 5K! Watching her glowing with pride as she crossed the finish line is my favorite memory. She did it and she wondered what she could accomplish next. I think that finish line represented more to her than just the end of that 5k.

Destiny: My favorite memory of GOTR would be the 5-k because it felt amazing having people cheer me on even though I was struggling, with them telling me “Keep going, you got this, just a little bit further” they helped boost me forward with a speed that I never knew that I had!

6)    Why do you think encouraging girls understanding of self and impact matters?

Coach Wheeler: Our changing world presents much chaos. All of us need ways to identify our emotions and stress levels and develop comfortable and effective ways to deal with stress and emotions. Once girls understand and accept themselves, they can go forward to help others. Making efforts to make a positive impact on society is a great way for girls to feel confident and feel important to the community.

Destiny: I think encouraging girls understanding of self-impact matters because they deserve to know that they’re not alone!

7)    If you could say one thing about the influence and impact of GOTR what would it be?

Coach Wheeler: The influence and impact of GOTR on the participants and coaches is that it offers something to everyone. Girls do not have to be fast to enjoy the run.  Both outgoing and quiet girls have fun and see success with the program.

Destiny: If I could say one thing about the influence and impact of GOTR it would have to be inspiring!