Running program teaches girls life lessons

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 1, 2014 

Ten weeks of running, games and community impact projects by the Girls on the Run comes to a climactic finale at 9 a.m. Saturday, June 7, with a 5k at the Barkley Gazebo.

The 3rd-5th grade girls from all over Whatcom County, all 250 of them, will run from the gazebo down the Railroad Trail to Whatcom Falls Park and back. Before they take off, they have the opportunity to have their hair dyed and faces painted to compliment their running tutus in the fun run.

"We like to do the out-and-back run so the girls can give high fives and encouragement to those they pass on the way back," Girls on the Run Director Jen Gallant said in a phone interview.

This group is the largest Whatcom County Girls on the Run has ever had. Recently they have had only about 180 girls after starting with just 12 in 2003, Gallant said.

The program has two seasons, fall and spring, and partners with the YMCA and local schools to encourage girls to be more active physically and in their community.

"The first week the girls start to learn about themselves and their own goals," Gallant said. "The next three weeks are about being a good friend, stopping bullying and resolving conflict between friends. Then the last three weeks they do a community impact project."

Throughout the 10-week program, the girls get to know one another through a variety of games and projects.

"It brings together girls who might not have otherwise been friends," Gallant said. "They have these great female role models leading them for 10 weeks. They have a great group mentality and (at the 5k) it's obvious when you see them in their groups."

For the community impact projects, groups did activities to help their community or raised money for a cause they were passionate about.

A Bellingham group raised money for an orphanage in Guatemala, and the orphanage was able to give their kids a pizza and pinata party with the money. A group in Laurel partnered with local businesses to hold a car wash and raised money for the Whatcom Humane Society. In Lynden, a group is hosting a lemonade stand and selling bracelets on Monday, June 2, to raise money for a family with costly hospital bills for their newborn.

Gallant attributes some of the success of the program to the area's running community, but sees the program as more than a workout routine.

"A lot of girls get signed up for that reason, but it's more than that," Gallant said. "Through the 5k the girls learn to set goals and that they can accomplish them. Oftentimes people think it's just another running program, but girls come back to be leaders and tell us how it helped prepare them for the challenges of middle school and high school. It's cool to see them come give back and how it has affected them."

The Girls on the Run 5k begins at 9 a.m. Saturday, June 9, at the Barkley Gazebo.

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