While named “Girls on the Run,” racing to the finish line is only one aspect of this positive youth development program that expanded into St. Charles Parish in 2019.
The goal, above all else, is to inspire young girls in third through eighth grade to be joyful and confident while also giving the opportunity to have fun, make friends, increase physical activity levels and learn important life skills. The program culminates with all area teams participating in a celebratory 5K event to be held in May.
The non-profit organization, which facilitates trained coaches who lead girls through interactive lessons and running activities at school and community sites through Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary and St. Charles parishes, will open registration Jan. 24 for girls on a first come, first served basis. Spring season opens Feb. 24.
“The biggest message of the program is instilling that every girl can do it,” said Aimee Johnson, council director for Girls on the Run. “In our 5K, we don’t care whether you jump, skip or crawl with us, just finish the race and cross that finish-line.”
The 10-week program sees groups of 12 to 15 girls meet with their coaches at their designated site, usually twice a week. Each coach establishes a lesson plan that teaches about subjects like self-awareness and team-building. That’s done at the beginning of each session – at the end, the running begins.
This program is accessible to all girls regardless of athletic ability or fitness level. Sessions usually last between 75 and 90 minutes and aim to teach critical life skills and behaviors such as how to manage emotions, help others, make intentional decisions, and resolve conflict.
Johnson notes she joined the Girls on the Run team after her daughter signed up and had a positive experience, believes in the impact the program has for the better.
“(Louisiana) is the No. 3 ranked state in terms of childhood obesity, inactivity … I think this is a great program for our state to have,” Johnson said. “It’s about positivity, being confident in yourself … I love what it teaches the girls.”
The program expanded to St. Charles Parish in 2019, and Albert Cammon Middle School has hosted as the local site. That connection came via Cammon teacher Sally Gaglione, who reached out to inquire about starting a team – and thus, the ACM Heart and Sole team was born, with Gaglione serving as coach.
“She was very passionate about the program and she reached out (about starting a team locally). Now she’s on our board, and she’s one of our greatest helpers,” Johnson said.
The program is not limited to schools, however – a fitness center, community park or many other sites can serve as a host site. Johnson said she hopes to see some other teams sprout up in St. Charles Parish to join Cammon’s.
“You just have to have the coaches and the site approved, and then you have 12-15 girls take part,” Johnson said.
The program’s momentum was stunted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused a shutdown for a season, and registration numbers to decline. It was feared another season would be cancelled following Hurricane Ida, but not only was it held, 125 girls registered, all in person, signifying a bounce-back.
“We’re hoping this spring will be even bigger,” Johnson said.
To find out more information or apply as a coach, or for existing program sites and schools to register for the new season, one may visit https://www.gotrbayouregion.org.