By MORGAN MANNS
Strong. Smart. Beautiful. Capable. Confident.
These are just a handful of the many characteristics parents hope their daughters encompass as they grow up.
One local girl is hoping to inspire and encourage her younger female peers to believe they can be all of these things and more by bringing a national empowerment program to the tri-county area.
Eighteen-year-old Courtney Yarbrough, Fostoria’s Glass Queen, has begun the process of starting a local Girls on the Run (GOTR) Northwest Ohio team for area girls in grades 3-5.
Girls on the Run is a national 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to “creating a world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams,” according to its mission.
“At Girls on the Run we inspire girls to recognize their inner strength and celebrate what makes them one of a kind,” the website reads. “Trained coaches lead small teams through our research-based curricula which includes dynamic discussions, activities and running games.”
“When I gave my speech to become the Fostoria Glass Queen, I told the judges I wanted to give back to our community and to empower the young girls who live here,” Yarbrough, a Hopewell-Loudon student, said. “I learned about Girls on the Run this past fall from a friend whose daughter participated in the program and couldn’t say enough about what it did for her daughter’s self-esteem. I knew it was just what the girls in our community needed.”
She reached out to the northwest Ohio chapter with a goal of creating a local team.
Yarbrough has worked hard to secure six women from the community to serve as coaches. These ladies have attended trainings, passed background checks and completed CPR/First Aid training.
Using an intentional curriculum that integrates physical activity, coaches teach girls critical life skills and strategies they can apply to all aspects of their lives during a 10-week program. Over the course of the program, girls in grades 3-5 develop essential skills to help them navigate their worlds and establish a lifetime appreciation for health and fitness.
The program culminates with girls positively impacting their communities through a service project and being physically and emotionally prepared to complete a celebratory 5K event.
According to a 2016 study, girls who were least active at the start increased in physical activity by more than 40 percent; 97 percent learned critical life skills such as managing emotions, helping others, intentional decision-making and resolving conflict; and 85 percent improved in confidence, competence, caring, character or connection. This impact continued beyond the length of the program.
“Girls face social pressures and conflicting messages about how they should be,” the website states. “Studies show that by adolescence, girls’ confidence drops about twice as much as boys’. Friendships become more complicated and challenging, girls’ perception of their academic ability declines, the likelihood of anxiety and depression increases and participation in physical activity plummets.
“It doesn’t have to be this way. We believe every girl is inherently full of power and potential. By knowing they are the leaders of their lives, these are the girls who will change the world.”
Girls enrolled in the program will meet twice every week at Fostoria Elementary School, 1202 H.L. Ford Drive, for 90-minute sessions, when they will work on empowerment skills and build up endurance to complete a 5K. The concluding event will take place with all the northwest Ohio GOTR teams at the University of Toledo.
Cost to participate is $150, however, scholarships are available. The website states no girl will be turned away for not being able to pay.
The team is limited to 15 girls, filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Sign up online at https://www.girlsontherunnwohio.org/Register-Now.
“I want the girls who join our team to know that we are committed to their success in the programs but, more importantly, we look forward to having fun with them as well,” Yarbrough said. “I hope the girls in our community feel empowered by the program, understand that people around them are going through many of the same things and understand what true community really is.”
Girls on the Run was established in 1996 in Charlotte, North Carolina, with 13 girls in one school. It has grown to more than 200 councils in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, serving nearly 180,000 girls and hosting more than 350 end-of-season 5K events across the country.
It also offers programs for girls in grades 6-8 (Heart and Sole), considering the whole girl — body, brain, heart, spirit and social connection — in a positive, structured space; and girls in grades 9-12 (High School) and beyond, getting involved as volunteers and coaches.
For more information, visit https://www.girlsontherunnwohio.org/.