March Partner & Volunteer Highlight: Girls on the Run
Girls on the Run Northern Virginia (GOTR NOVA) encourages girls to recognize their individual strengths and celebrate their connections with others through dynamic, interactive lessons and physical activity. This out-of-school time program helps Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) students in grades 3-8 develop confidence and character while offering the opportunity for high school-aged students to serve as junior coaches.
GOTR NOVA participants set goals and work to accomplish them with the support of their teammates and volunteer coaches. “This allows them to build their confidence and encourages them to try new things, despite it seeming scary or challenging,” GOTR NOVA Executive Director Caroline Woods said.
Interactive lessons help the girls recognize their individual strengths in a positive team setting with coaches encouraging them every step of the way. Volunteer coaches provide lessons that blend physical activity with life skill development to enable girls to adapt to whatever comes their way.
Part of the program toolkit is “Identity Card,” a section in their journal to keep track of what they learned and set their goals. Each team develops and implements a Community Impact Project, which allows participants to use the skills they learn as they work towards a goal, giving them a sense of ownership and empowerment. The program culminates with an end-of-season 5-kilometer (5K) run. “Completing the 5K provides a tangible sense of accomplishment and a framework for setting and achieving life goals,” Woods said.
Since its inception, GOTR NOVA has worked to establish a strong partnership with ACPS. Both parties recognize how the collaborative relationship positively impacts Alexandria’s youth, ensuring they establish healthy relationships with themselves, their peers and their communities.
“The partnership between GOTR NOVA and ACPS allows thousands of ACPS students to experience this transformational program year over year, equipping them with the tools and skills they need to overcome life’s challenges and potentially traumatic events,” Woods said.
ACPS K-12 Instructional Specialist Kristin Donley added, "Girls on the Run is a program that includes life lessons like healthy living, building relationships and confidence-building exercises.”
Over the last five years, GOTR NOVA has served more than 800 Alexandria students. Since GOTR NOVA’s inception in 2001, nearly 80,000 girls across Northern Virginia have benefited.
ACPS elementary students in grades three and above are eligible to participate in Girls on the Run. The organization’s Heart & Sole program is geared toward middle schoolers. Students ages 16-18 are eligible to participate as junior coaches where they can continue to benefit from the Girls on the Run lessons while expanding their leadership skills.
GOTR NOVA participants are reminded through their lessons that they have the “star power” within themselves to achieve anything they put their mind to doing.
“Our program reaches girls at a critical stage, strengthening their confidence at a time when society begins to tell them they can’t,” Woods said. “Underscoring the important connection between physical and emotional health, our program addresses the whole girl when she needs it the most.”
Woods noted that a longitudinal study found that individuals who participate in GOTR are more caring, have a greater sense of connection to those around them and have a stronger application of life skills that include managing emotions, resolving conflict, helping others and making intentional decisions.
“Not only do they learn about healthy habits, but they build connections between physical and emotional health. After crossing the finish line of the 5K, these girls walk away with new and strengthened friendships and a sense of pride and empowerment from their accomplishments," Donley said.
GOTR NOVA offers 10-week programs that run in the spring and fall. “Girls on the Run is an inclusive program where the dignity of every participant is respected, and all youth are safe,” Woods assured. “Students who identify as non-binary, gender-fluid or gender-expansive and are interested in Girls on the Run may participate.” GOTR NOVA can be contacted by phone at 703-273-3153 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Partner & Volunteer Highlight