For the Chippewa Valley Post
Girls on the Run (GOTR), which has operated in Eau Claire County since 2006, has expanded to include Chippewa County, according to Kim Gillett, the local organization’s executive director.
Gillett said the non-profit organization is now known as Girls on the Run of the Chippewa Valley. More than 300 third through fifth grade girls participated in the program this past year, at 15 different school sites in Eau Claire County.
The program’s trademark is “learn, dream, live, run.” GOTR offers a 10-week season each spring, culminating in a 5K running event early in May. Each GOTR team usually consists of eight to 15 girls, with a maximum of 20 per team.
The teams meet with their coaches and volunteers twice a week for 90 minutes, from February to May. Some 150 coaches and volunteers work with the teams in the program. Several sites fielded more than one team this year.
Jessica Severson, a third grade teacher at Lakeshore Elementary School in Eau Claire, is one of the GOTR coaches. She said that GOTR is “not just about running, it’s about healthy eating, it’s about self-confidence, it’s about how to deal with others, and most importantly, it’s about giving young girls tools that will help them for the rest of their life.”
Specific lesson plans, designed for each meeting, focus primarily on self-confidence, which is a problem area for many girls. The girls who participate in this program are able to interact with other girls in their age range and to form leadership skills and friendships that would not normally have been formed. Severson said “a lot of the girls formed some really lasting bonds and are able to carry that through in later life experiences.”
Severson, who grew up in a small rural school and had no opportunity to participate in programs like GOTR, said the program’s impact on her has been life changing. Many of the lessons require deep thought and reflection for the coaches, she said.
“Seriously, it’s one of the best things that I’ve been a part of and every single coach at Lakeshore will tell you the exact same thing,” Severson said. “We thought it was so great, we’re super excited, and we’re really looking forward to making it a bigger team and touching more girls’ lives.”
She mentioned one participant who entered the program with low self-confidence and feeling bad about her running skills, but who greatly strengthened her self-confidence through her GOTR participation. She added that the direct impact of GOTR doesn’t stop at the fifth grade and stressed that the program “is not just for girls in grades three through five.
”It really helps even adults,” she said.
Gillett, GOTR’s local director, emphasized that “the program is for all girls, (and) running is not a prerequisite! We want to reach all the girls who want to just have fun, move and talk about topics that we don’t always cover every day, like, inner beauty, gossip, staying positive and more!”
The 2015 participants in the local GOTR came from the following schools: Pederson, Augusta, Fairchild, Fall Creek, Flynn, Lakeshore, Locust Lane, Meadowview, Montessori, Northwoods, Osseo, Putnam Heights, Robbins, Roosevelt, and Sherman. Gillett said she anticipates adding three or four new schools this year, with a goal of reaching over 400 girls by the spring season in 2016.
Megan Pokrandt is a senior at Regis High School and is a member of National Honor Society (NHS). As part of her Community Service Project for NHS, Megan is an active volunteer with Girls on the Run. Kim Gillett is the Council Director of GOTR of the Chippewa Valley.