West Slope Girls on the Run develops and enhances girls competencies to successfully navigate life experiences. Courtesy photo.

West Slope Girls on the Run develops and enhances girls’ competencies to successfully navigate life experiences. Courtesy photo.

By Liesl Greathouse

REGIONAL—(May 20, 2014)   For girls looking to gain self-confidence, friends, leadership skills and the accomplishment of running a 5k, then the Girls on the Run program is a perfect fit.

Girls on the Run (GOTR) is a program for girls in third through eighth grades, designed to develop and enhance girls’ competencies to successfully navigate life experiences.  Through trained and supportive coaches and volunteers, girls learn life skills through dynamic, conversation-based lessons and running games. The program culminates with the girls being physically and emotionally prepared to complete a celebratory 5k running event.

“The goals of the program are to develop and improve competence, unleash confidence through accomplishment, develop strength of character, respond to others and oneself with care and compassion, create positive connections with peers and adults, and make a meaningful contribution to community, all while establishing a lifetime appreciation of health and fitness,” Executive Director on the Western Slope Jill Henwood explained.  “It combines many of my passions-teaching, running, working with youth, and medial literacy.”

Henwood originally brought the program to the Western Slope in 2000, after reading about the program in a magazine.  “I started it in Grand Junction, along with a couple of friends and 12 volunteers who paid to help us get Molly Barker, the founder of the program nationally, to come to Grand Junction and train us,” Henwood explained.  “A few years later Sue Beutler, of Montrose, came on board and started the program in the Montrose area and quickly the program grew to include all of the public schools in the Montrose/Olathe School district.”

Today, GOTR of Western Colorado is one of the oldest and one of the largest GOTR councils in the nation.

The benefits of the program expand beyond just to the young participants.  “Obviously, by improving girls confidence and health, it benefits the community,” Henwood said.  “However, we think the trickle up effect is equally powerful.  We have more than 450 volunteer coaches each year, and many of our volunteers discover things about themselves like many of the girls do.  I have heard from and heard about quite a few individuals whose daughters did GOTR, the individual decided to do the 5K and in the process transformed their daily habits (ie stopped smoking, eating better, etc).”

Having started and stayed with GOTR for 15 years, Henwood is now the longest serving Girls on the Run Council Director in the nation.  “It started as a passion project-all volunteer out of my house-and over 15 years has grown into the best job in the world,” she said.

For 15 years, Henwood has come to enjoy various parts of her job as Executive Director.  “Of course, one of my favorite parts is going the races and seeing girls complete the 5K; for many girls it is their first 5K so there are usually tears and excitement,” she explained.  “And I really love watching daughters run with their dads, or grandpas.  I know that the presence of a positive and supportive and loving father or male father figure is incredibly important as girls navigate the teen years, so I have way too many pictures of dads and daughters running the 5K over the past 15 years!”

GOTR has several upcoming projects in the works, including a new middle school program, called TEAM, and for the first time a summer camp at the Bill Heddles Rec Center in Delta.  The camp will will be June 16-20and will be an amazing week for girls entering third through sixth grades.

For people interested in helping out with GOTR, there are many different ways of getting involved.  A continuing need is for volunteer coaches in Delta, Montrose, and Mesa County during the spring and in Telluride, Norwood and Naturita in the fall.  There are also at least three races annually, so those are great one-time events for people to help out at.

“One of my favorite parts is training and working with our volunteer coaches,” Henwood said.  “Our volunteers are amazing.  Coaching GOTR is a huge commitment and so many of our volunteers go above and beyond to make the season amazing for their team and provide the support and encouragement girls need.  I really enjoy meeting the women and some men who give so much of their time and energy to help girls in their community.”

Business sponsors are also always welcome.  “So if businesses want to support a great cause-and have their business name on a lot of shirts throughout Western Colorado-please contact us,” Henwood said.

For people wanting to make monetary donations, during the season participants do an optional pledge drive, so people can donate directly to GOTR, or can support a girl they know with the pledge drive.

The GOTR program has been in Ridgway in the past, so one of Henwood’s goals is to be re-establish the program in Ridgway and hopefully get the program going in Ouray.

For an entirely different way to get involved with GOTR, all of the counties in the area-Montrose, Delta and San Miguel County-are in need of Board Members.  Contact Henwood for more information.

While there are many ways to get involved, there always one important thing that Henwood keeps in mind: “Most importantly, we always want girls to join GOTR, so if you know a girl in third through fifth  grade, or sixth through eighth grade, encourage them to get involved in GOTR.”

For more information about the program, helping out, or registering as a participant, visit gotrwesterncolorado.org, email jill@gotrwesterncolorado.org or call 261-5843.