BY BROOKE RENNA, ASST. NEWS EDITOR
“All girls need a role model,” said senior Gina Palazzi, a student coordinator and running buddy for Girls on the Run. Being involved in the program has allowed Palazzi, along with many other members of the Susquehanna community, to become a role model for young girls in the Selinsgrove area. Palazzi said: “Seeing how happy the girls are just running, singing, dancing and just having fun while building their self-esteem in the process is a great thing. It’s not just benefitting them, it’s benefitting everyone involved.”
On Nov. 17, 160 girls between third and eighth grade completed the 5K for Girls on the Run, running throughout the borough of Selinsgrove and finishing in Lopardo Stadium. Although the 5K is one of the culminating events, Girls on the Run is not just about running. The program incorporates not only teaching the young girls how to live healthy lifestyle and training for a 5K, but also uses a curriculum to help build their self-esteem and has them complete a community impact project. Selinsgrove currently has three different community impact projects being completed: one team is raising money for Mostly Mutts, the second is raising money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society and the third is collecting items to send to children in New Jersey and New York who were affected by Hurricane Sandy.
Girls on the Run is not just a program done in the Selinsgrove area, but a national program with 206 councils in North America, branching out from the United States into Canada. The mission is to just train young girls to run a 5K while empowering them through a curriculum that is “developmentally appropriate and address relevant issues to the girls in the program,” according to Cheryl Stumpf, Girls on the Run executive director and Susquehanna outreach coordinator.
The program is split into two different tracks. One track is for girls who are in either third, fourth or fifth grade. The other track, called “Girls on Track,” is for girls in either sixth, seventh or eighth grade. The curriculum differs for the two different tracks, with the second one being more mature.
Different topics that are addressed are building peer relationships, bullying, learning to assert yourself and express your emotions in a healthy way and building self-esteem. In the more mature track, coaches spend more time addressing cyber bullying, drugs and alcohol and a larger emphasis on understanding their body.
Despite the emphasis on the curriculum, what matters most to the young girls participating in the program is seeing that the volunteers are there and care. Stumpf said: “You can mess up in delivering the curriculum. I still read the manual verbatim. But the girls don’t care how much you know; they just want to know how much you are. Being there, being present with them and accepting them for who they are is the most important characteristic of the program.”
“The most challenging aspect of the program has nothing to do with the girls or delivering the program, but more to do with engaging volunteers,” Stumpf said. It is difficult to find volunteers who can agree to help out with the program for 10-12 weeks, especially when it is done solely through unpaid hours. Palazzi also saw difficulty in getting students to help and volunteer. She explained: “Getting people to volunteer and give up some of their time was the hardest thing, especially with student athletes. Once they were there, they would begin to understand and see the bigger picture. That you were supposed to be the face of your team and that that is what those little girls want to be like when they get older.”
Girls on the Run is currently planning their next season. Stumpf encourages students to volunteer. “Students are in a unique position, in that they are young and the girls love the college students,” Stumpf said. “Anytime that you volunteer for a non-profit, it can lend itself to whatever major you are.” To get more information, contact Stumpf directly.