I recall experiencing my first negative thought about my body before the age of thirteen. I would compare myself to my friends at school, thinking they could wear cuter clothes, run faster during sports and knew how to put makeup on better than me. Working daily with teens and women who continually struggle with body image and self-acceptance reminded me how young these issues really do begin. Because of this reminder, I was inspired to find a way to interact with girls at a younger age in the hopes of incorporating more positive role models into their lives, as well as help them create a stronger sense of self before those tough middle school years begin.
Feeling this way, I was reminded of an amazing experience I had back in college when I volunteered at the Girls on the Run 5k Fun Zone; I remembered the hundreds of girls wearing bright colors and tutus, excited for the day ahead and the opportunity to reach their goal of running a 5k alongside their peers, coaches, parents and volunteers. I decided it was time for me to rejoin the organization.
The ten weeks I spent as a girls on the run coach were better than I could have imagined. I was placed at a school with an amazing team of women coaching an even more amazing group of girls! I had the opportunity to work with both the 3rd & 4th grade Girls on the Run team as well as the 5th & 6th grade Heart & Sole team. Our school practiced at 7 a.m. before school began, and the pure joy and energy of the girls, even so early in the morning, was truly life-giving; I thought I would be exhausted and cranky getting up an hour earlier than usual, but I found myself rejuvenated through the relationships I developed over the weeks. I ended up co-leading the Heart & Sole team, and worked with them for many weeks on lessons aimed at helping build up their "girl wheel", which included brain, body, heart, soul and social aspects. I watched as the girls learned to ask for help, set boundaries, stand up for what they believed in and much more.
At the end of the season, all the schools in the city got together at Sporting Park and ran our 5k. I cannot explain to you the pride and joy I felt as each and every one of my girls crossed the finish line, signifying the literal accomplishment of their physical goal, as well as all the growth achieved throughout the season. At our last practice, many girls approached me to thank me for all the help and support I provided throughout the season, and y'all... I just about cried. Sometimes I showed up to practice tired and groggy with coffee in hand, and other times I was ready to start the day and lead lessons; despite how I showed up, the impact was left on these girls simply because I did just that; showed up, smiled and told them all I knew they could reach their goals. People say there isn't truly any selfless acts because we all get something out of everything; well in this case, I agree. For every small impact I made for our team, every single girl equally and repeatedly positively impacted me. Come fall, you best believe I will be right back to waking up early on Monday mornings to greet these girls and tell them they are strong, lovable and important.
If you are interested in volunteering with Girls on the Run, there are many more opportunities than just coaching! Check them out online here to learn more about your options to help positively impact young girls' lives!
Note: this post was initially written and published on the Thalia House blog - go check them out too!