ELKHART — A self-esteem program for girls is growing in Elkhart County, and this year it will be available to more students.
Girls on the Run Michiana, which expanded to include Elkhart County in 2012, will be in at least five local schools when it launches this spring.
New schools this year include Mary Beck Elementary and Roosevelt Elementary in Elkhart.
The program uses running to teach girls life lessons, according to director Amy Cooper Collier. It’s part of the national Girls on the Run program, which started in 1996. Girls get together with their team after school twice a week.
“This is so much more than just running,” Collier said. “It’s actually a program that just uses running as a vehicle to deliver really important lessons that girls use as they grow up.”
Those lessons help girls like Nevaeh Dzialak, a fifth-grader at Chamberlain Elementary School in Goshen, feel more confident.
Dzialak, who participated in Girls on the Run last year, said the program “was something I needed.”
“I compare how I am now to how I used to be, and there’s a huge difference,” the 10-year-old said. “I don’t doubt myself as much as I used to. I met other people who were like me.”
Samara Riveros, also a fifth-grade student at Chamberlain, said she joined Girls on the Run hoping to make new friends. She said she knew from the first day that she would be having fun — and some of her favorite memories from the program include getting to know kids she didn’t know before.
“I have two pictures at home of my team,” Dzialak said. “It reminds me that people can work together.”
Kelly Johnson, a guidance counselor and head coach for the Girls on the Run team at Chamberlain, said she wanted to bring the program to the school because it helps girls with “social and emotional wellness, along with physical wellness.”
“This is really a beautiful program,” Johnson said. “The girls can come to a safe place where they learn, grow and can be themselves.”
She added that as a school guidance counselor, she’s concerned with issues like bullying between girls. Girls on the Run helps students learn how to deal with some of those situations. Johnson said it’s also rewarding to see formerly shy girls “blossom” throughout the 10-week program.
The spring 2014 Girls on the Run Michiana program starts at the end of February and ends with a 5K run in May. Each school’s team is limited to the first 15 girls who sign up.
Girls on the Run is a nonprofit program, but girls pay $160 to cover the cost of the lessons, T-shirt, water bottle and 5K race admission, among some other indirect costs, Collier said. There is a sliding fee scale and scholarship options for girls who can’t pay the whole price, she added.
“We are working right now to make sure every girl cam be a part of the program regardless of her parents’ ability to pay,” she said. “We are so proud that we’ve never turned a girl away.”
How to get involved
If you would like to volunteer to coach a local Girls on the Run team visit the Girls on the Run Michiana website at www.girlsontherunmichiana.org or call Amy Cooper Collier at 315-2882.
If you would like a girl you know to be on a Girls on the Run team contact her school to find out if there is a team there. You can also visit the site list at www.girlsontherunmichiana.org.