AWARE to expand Girls on the Run statewide

By February 27, 2015Education, Health, Sports, Syndicated
Fifth grader Dani Witt (left) stretches before running. This is her third year doing Girls on the Run. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Fifth grader Dani Witt (left) stretches before running. This is her third year doing Girls on the Run. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Juneau’s sexual assault and domestic abuse prevention non-profit is expanding Girls on the Run, an after-school program that aims to empower elementary and middle school girls to be healthy and confident.

AWARE has grown the program in Southeast and wants more communities to join in the movement.

Dani Witt, 10, used to think she was terrible at sports. She compared herself to her friends who she thought were more flexible and athletic.

Now, in her third year with Girls on the Run at Mendenhall River Community School in Juneau, Dani doesn’t have those negative thoughts anymore.

“It has shown me that I have a lot of different techniques about myself that I love and like, and my friends are different and they don’t always have the things I have,” Dani says.

The program has made Dani feel better about herself and teaches her to focus on her positive traits.

“I’m really creative, I make people really happy and I smile a lot,” she says.

Dani is one of about 300 girls from all over Southeast that participate in Girls on the Run each year. AWARE first started the program in 2008 with only 20 participants in Juneau.

Before running, the girls at Mendenhall River Community School sit in a circle for a lesson on positive self talk. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Before running, the girls at Mendenhall River Community School sit in a circle for a lesson on positive self talk. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

The program targets elementary and middle school girls. Over a three-month period, they discuss life lessons and practice running with female coaches. Each program session culminates in a five kilometer run.

AWARE recently established Girls on the Run of Greater Alaska and wants to partner with other abuse prevention agencies around the state to bring the program to more communities. There’s also a Girls on the Run of Southcentral Alaska.

Julie Walker is a Girls on the Run coordinator for AWARE. She says the program addresses issues, like healthy relationships and standing up yourself, that help prevent girls from becoming victims of abuse.

“We talk about this thing called the ‘girl box.’ It’s basically that girls should fit in this specific box of they should be pretty and they should focus on their looks and they should be in the kitchen, or whatever these traditional gender stereotypes may be that they’re hearing – we challenge those and we try to get girls outside of the ‘girl box,'” Walker says.

The state Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault is helping to fund the expansion of Girls on the Run.

Executive Director Lauree Morton says the council looks for ways to reach different age groups. It funds other prevention efforts like Coaching Boys into Men, Green Dot and recently finished a three-year evaluation of a new adolescent program called The Fourth R, which started in Canada.

Morton says the council is thoughtful and methodical about what programs to get behind.

“We’re bringing them in and we’re pilot testing them through a broad array of communities, so we have urban tests, we have rural tests, we have remote tests to see if they actually will work, and as we see that they work then we’re investing in trying to get them infused into other communities,” Morton says.

Morton says the council is working with AWARE to identify communities that are ready to have a Girls on the Run program. She says the council has start-up funds for a few communities.

Girls on the Run meets twice a week. After discussing the day's lesson, they run laps around the school, working towards completing a 5K. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Girls on the Run meets twice a week. After discussing the day’s lesson, they run laps around the school, working towards completing a 5K. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

At the end of a Girls on the Run session at Mendenhall River School, about 20 girls are running laps. Each time they pass a coach, they hear something positive about themselves that they have to repeat. It’s part of the day’s lesson on using affirmative language to describe yourself and others.

Faith Kellar, 10, says Girls on the Run has made her more confident. She feels equipped to handle all sorts of situations, like when she’s confronted with comparing herself to girls pictured in a magazine.

“And you just feel bad about it. And your mom’s like, ‘What’s wrong?’ It’s like, ‘Well, I feel bad that I don’t look like these girls.’ Don’t think that,” says Faith. “Think, like, maybe that’s not the real them. It’s probably just a costume.”

She hopes more girls around the state can experience Girls on the Run. Besides learning about herself and how to interact with others, Faith says it’s just fun.

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