Archive by Author

Adventures of a new site coordinator

21 Jan



You may not realize it, but I am not just the Executive Director of Girls on the Run-Chicago. I am also Mom to my daughter Ella, who is in the fourth grade, and I am a brand new site coordinator. Ella’s school did not have a Girls on the Run program, so I stepped forward, as hundreds of you have, to start one. I tell my team that I wanted to see what went into starting Girls on the Run for our parents, teachers and administrators who take on the site coordinator role; but selfishly, I also want Ella to benefit from the lessons Girls on the Run teaches, and not just her – but her peers – knowing that the program works best when a group of girls have the same GOTR skills and lessons.

It started last spring when I talked to parents about the things we were seeing in our girls, and how we wished there was a way to help them navigate difficult situations, make good choices, and to know that personal fulfillment and self-esteem come from within. We all saw the need for our girls to build these life skills, and especially how to deal with bullying and gossip. I spoke to parents about Girls on the Run, and what we are all about. Many expressed interest in the program and so I set about meeting with the administration.

School is out for the summer, which makes meeting with administrators and decision makers hard, so I set a meeting in early fall and pitched the program to the principal who saw the need for a Girls on the Run program. We decided to meet again after Thanksgiving to settle on a time and location for practice.  Well, that meeting never came. With several things going on both at school and during this year’s particularly nasty flu season, our conversation was put off.

Then I got an email from Shavonne, our Program Manager here at Girls on the Run. It was a reminder of things I needed to have in place to launch the season. She asked me to fill out a simple online form confirming practice times (thanks for the reminder!), and she wanted to know the number of Girls on the Run/Girls on Track teams, and my site contact information. Site contact information helps Girls on the Run–Chicago understand if anything has changed at the school since I applied, knowing how many and which teams helps us order supplies for the season, and practice times helps us plan our site visits for the spring.   

Time to get my ducks in a row! I need to have a practice time, recruit coaches and pay my start-up fee! I need to begin thinking about recruiting girls!  I contacted the principal, who has been such a wonderful support in figuring out where in the labyrinth of school activities GOTR will fit in this spring.  I am coordinating with Girl Scouts, Band, Art, Chess, and Basketball.

Now, I need some fellow coaches! I logged into Coaches Corner and found a flyer I could amend with our practice time, and a sample email that I was able to customize, reminding parents about our conversations last spring and the specific volunteer requirements at our school which the principal is including in our school email communications and newsletter this week. Next, I am going to send it directly to a few of the moms in our school who I know have a passion for running and a commitment to the girls. From there, hopefully, I can find a few volunteers to help me coach. 

Finding that practice time and coaches are my big worry! I have it really easy, though, because I can always walk over and talk to Shavonne or Priscilla, our Volunteer Manager, and ask questions on how to navigate a busy school schedule or to recruit a parent to serve as a coach with me. They reassure me that it all comes together, and that they are there to support me, and any site coordinator, as they get their program off the ground for their first, or even their 20th season. 

It turns out, figuring out practice times and days took only a few emails with parents and the administration. Now I need one or two parents or teachers to help me coach. I feel like that is doable, especially since I don’t have to start from scratch.

I think sometimes as a volunteer, it can be easy to forget all the resources available to us, both online and through the people who work here at Girls on the Run. I thought, “I have to do this all on my own” and the truth is, I didn’t! Don’t forget that we are here to help you through this process, and if you are struggling or have a question, you can reach out at any time. We are invested in your success, and want to help you bring Girls on the Run to the girls in your life.

So, now that I figured out our practice time, I am off to finish my flyer for coach recruitment.  Once that piece is in place, I know the rest will fall in order.

5K Series Announcement

3 Dec

The Girls on the Run mission is simple and clear: to educate and prepare girls for a lifetime of self-respect and healthy living. Since 1999, we’ve had the pleasure of serving more than 35,000 girls across Chicagoland. Each one comes to the program with a unique set of characteristics and challenges. We’ve heard the stories of girls who’ve faced hardships far beyond anything a 4th-grader should ever have to experience. We’ve also enjoyed the many success stories told by coaches and parents, and we’ve seen the look on a girl’s face when she crosses the finish line, fueled by the power of “I CAN”.

Over the last five years, Girls on the Run-Chicago has experienced unprecedented growth. The number of girls served has grown by more than 170% in that time. Whereas once we were a city agency serving a handful of suburbs, we are now a regional organization serving girls in urban, suburban and rural communities across six counties. In order to meet this growing need and still offer a best-in-class experience for the girls, we asked you–our parents, guardians, coaches, and site coordinators–what you thought was most important to the girls on 5k day. We’re super excited to offer the following improvements based on what you told us.

Beginning in Spring 2014, we will be hosting the first-ever, Girls on the Run-Chicago 5k Series. Instead of one large event, as we have done in the past, girls will attend one of three regional 5ks located nearest to where they live, resulting in an average travel time of 30-45 minutes for the majority of participants. The 5k locations will be:

5K LOCATION Grant Park, Chicago, IL *Lake County St. James Farm, Warrenville, IL
SERVING City of Chicago
Northern Cook County suburban sites and most Lake County sites Sites in DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Will, Grundy and Kankakee Counties
TOTAL PARTICIPANTS 7,000 4,000 4,000

*North Region location is awaiting final approval. Details will be provided to those sites before the start of the season.

Each of these events will provide the girls with an opportunity to have what they want most – a chance to celebrate their achievement with family and friends. By limiting the size of each 5k, it will allow us to offer participants a safer, more streamlined experience with faster registration, less traffic to the site, and more available parking, while still offering the special activities like face painting, happy hair, tiara decorating, and on-course entertainment that the girls love and look forward to.

Lastly, we’ve added new technology that will allow us to communicate up-to-the-minute information to event participants, in the days leading up to, and on 5k day. These alerts were piloted during our Fall 5k in November, and would include information like bus arrival and departure updates, 5k start delays, traffic/weather alerts and more.

All of us at Girls on the Run-Chicago are committed to the girls we serve. As we continue our planning for the spring season, we look forward to working side by side with you to design a series that puts the girl and her experience at the center. We hope that you will continue to reach out to us at with questions and/or feedback, and we thank you for your continued support and service.

Kris Smart, Executive Director, Girls on the Run-Chicago

Girls on the Run-Chicago 5k

4 Jun

To our GOTRC Community:

All of us here at Girls on the Run-Chicago deeply regret the many failures that led to the girls, coaches, running buddies and family members who were unable to run in the 5K on Saturday.

We have heard from many of you about your experience and appreciate the time you have taken to express your frustrations and share your stories. What you experienced was unacceptable. And the information you have provided to us is, and will continue to be, extremely important as we move forward with future planning.

While we know nothing will truly erase the disappointments of the day, we want to remedy the situation by offering a full 5k refund and a new race experience to those who were unable to participate. All girls, coaches, running buddies and family members who were not able to run will receive a full race refund. In addition, we have partnered with five area 5ks to offer the girls and their buddies the chance to have a race-day experience.

We will cover the cost of entry into any one of these partner races and will have volunteers and staff on site to paint faces, “happy” their hair and make sure each girl gets her medal. We will also work with our school partners to determine what bus fees for individual riders need to be refunded via check.

For the Race Against Hate event, please know that registration will close at 5pm CST on Tuesday, June 11.

  • Gigi’s Playhouse 5k in Barrington, IL on June 9
  • Zion Park District 5k in Zion, IL on June 15
  • Race Against Hate 5k in Evanston, IL on June 16
  • Chicago Women’s Half Marathon/5k in Grant Park on June 23
  • Lake County YWCA ywalkforward 5k in Libertyville, IL on June 23

[UPDATE 7/1/13 - All 5k refund requests have been processed and mailed. If you have any questions, please email]

Many of you have asked what happened and how to prevent this in the future. As we work with the race management company contracted for Saturday’s 5k, the details of how these mistakes occurred and what changes must be made to ensure this never happens again will be identified. But we know that where we failed most was in our contingency planning and in our communication to you all. And for that, we are truly sorry.

Please continue to reach out to us at, where our staff is reviewing all of your feedback and responding as soon as possible.

Finally, I want to offer a heartfelt thanks to all the adults in the lives of our girls. Our coaches, site coordinators, parents and school staff have done all of the heavy lifting in these past few days in helping our girls and each other process disappointment and heartbreak. Everyone here at Girls on the Run-Chicago is inspired by the ways you have helped your girls, and how you have come together to offer alternative 5K experiences. If you have one planned, please let us know how we can help. The spirit of Girls on the Run lives within each one of you. Thank you.

Kris Smart, Executive Director, Girls on the Run-Chicago

Volunteer. And be a superhero.

20 May

Two superhero volunteers (author, Kally Hanifin on the right) at the Girls on the Run 5k in Boston.

by Kally Hanifin

This will be my third year running the Chicago Marathon, and my first year running as a SoleMate with Girls on the Run. Although Chicago was my first marathon and feels very much like my home course, I live in Boston. I felt like I should get to know the organization in my own city, and I’m so glad I did.

It’s a weird time to be a runner in Boston. I signed up to volunteer at the Girls on the Run 5k months earlier, but the date fell just two weeks after the day of the Boston Marathon, and much of my conversation with the other volunteers that morning was about where we were that fateful day. All of us had been there, at some point on the course, cheering. Such is the nature of runners. When we aren’t running the race, we want to volunteer. When we can’t volunteer, we cheer. The communal, supportive spirit of the sport is what I like best about it.

The morning of the 5K, I arrived on the esplanade, donning my fluorescent pink Cheer Squad shirt, and took my spot at the Happy Hair table just in time for the enormous swarm of girls to overtake us. By far, the most popular request was for the colored hair spray. I did stripes, mohawks, blue to orange ombre, silver polka dots. I had no idea I had such skill with a hair spray can, but all of my works of art trotted away happily. Some brave coaches also allowed their runners to color their hair for them. In less than an hour, there was not a single head of human colored hair left.

Amidst the din, I chatted and laughed with my fellow volunteers, and by the end of the day, learned at which other races we would be volunteering together. We traded contact information and made plans for future waterstop hijinks. It was easily the most fun I’ve had volunteering, but it also felt good to be around other Boston runners during a time when we were trying to get our bearings back.

Overall, as an experience: A+. And now you have the chance to do the same. Volunteer at the Girls on the Run-Chicago 5k on June 1st. Because Lynda Carter ain’t got nothin’ on you.

Cross the line

4 Apr

alice bumblee bee shoes

By Alice Kovacik

This Sunday I’m going to do something I’ve never done before. I’m going to run an 8K. Now, a 4.97 mile race might not seem like much to a seasoned marathoner or a veteran triathlete, but for me, the girl who used to cry in anticipation of the mile run in gym class, Sunday is a big day.

Much like the girls who participate in Girls on the Run, my journey to race day has been an invaluable lesson in hard work fueled by an unwavering commitment to achieve a single goal: cross the finish line.

It sounds simple, but it’s not. Training has required a redefinition of my relationship with running, one rooted in self-efficacy rather than self-doubt. I’ve learned that it doesn’t really matter how fast I go, as long as I keep going. Early mornings, sore muscles, and hard-fought endurance have drowned out the little voice that keeps insisting, “You’re not a runner, Alice.”

Early last month, I ran four consecutive miles for the first time. I had to stop myself from sharing this milestone with complete strangers while walking to the grocery store or riding the El to work. I waited eagerly for friends and co-workers to ask about my weekend so I could tell them about my run. “I ran four miles on Saturday — without stopping!” I felt compelled to include that last phrase for those familiar with the details of my rocky relationship with running. It wasn’t even race day and I felt like a million bucks.

I may never run a marathon, but I’m grateful to have experienced the feeling of accomplishment that comes with transforming one very slow, painful mile into two, and with a lot of determination, into four. This weekend, I’ll wind through downtown Chicago to make it five.

I’m running the Shamrock Shuffle because it’s something I told myself I could never do, and I’m finding that it’s pretty empowering to prove yourself wrong.

I am a Girl on the Run.

1 Mar

Image“Mommy” she said, “Sometimes Barbies are just Barbies.”

“Yes,” I said, “But this Barbie told the others that she is a loner, and then she used mean words, and then she announced no one accepts her.”

“No one accepts her because she is different. She likes different stuff than the other Barbies.”

“But don’t you see, my Barbie keeps saying she does like her and wants to be friends.  So my Barbie is now sad, because her friend is so busy worrying about other girls, she doesn’t notice the girls who like her for herself.”

“Hum…” she said.

“Knock knock” I say, as my Barbie approaches the jewelry box home of her Barbie.

“Yes?” comes the tiny voice.

“Hi, it is me Lightning Barbie.  I was wondering if you wanted to come out and have coffee with me.”

“Okay” says the tiny voice, and then her Barbie emerges from the box and together they march down the bed to the imaginary coffee shop.   As play continues, the Monster High Girls and the Princesses join the Barbies and make a club of girls who accept each other as they are and celebrate their differences.

Sometimes play is just play.  Sometimes it is not.  Sometimes as we grow up we try on ideas and ways to interact with each other through our imagination.   My daughter is in the 3rd grade.  She and her peers are dealing with issues of identity, gender expectations, personal relationships, and what it means to be a friend.  

Part of what they are learning is how to be at peace with their differences.  Part of what they are struggling with is the idea that you can be interested in something else but still be friends.  Sometimes your friend does something best, and sometimes you do.   What they struggle with is what many of us well into our lives struggle with – how to respect one ’s self; and how to respect others.

This week thousands of girls across Chicagoland are becoming girls on the run for the first time.  In their practices they will get to know each other and start the process of becoming a team.   As the week progresses, our second lesson is a gift that once learned, can benefit a girl (or a boy for that matter) for the rest of her life.

It is about promises. 

It is a promise to respect yourself and others.

And although our promises seem simple on the page and easy when things are going well, it is when life presents you with a challenge, when they are hardest to live every day, is when they become so much more important.

I respect others by:

  • Being honest.
  • Obeying authority.
  • Being encouraging and helpful.
  • Listening well and not spreading gossip.
  • Respecting other people’s things.
  • Showing gratitude for what others do for me.
  • Serving my community.

I respect myself by:

  • Standing up for myself and my values.
  • Making responsible choices.
  • Always trying my best.
  • Expressing my feelings.
  • Being positive.
  • Exercising regularly and eating and sleeping well.
  • Completing my schoolwork.

With respect to self and others our girls gain confidence that they are ok as they are and provides understanding that if you demonstrate respect – you deserve respect in kind.  Once internalized, expecting respect from those around you makes it harder to accept friendships and relationships in your life where this is absent.   And we abandon the notion of allowing “nice” and “accommodating” to stand in for the genuine respect we deserve and should demonstrate.

Think about the list above.  How would our lives change if this week we made the same promises our girls will make?  How would the world change if this is how we all showed up each day?

I promise to respect myself and others.   I am a girl on the run.

Run with a purpose

12 Feb


By Kris Smart, Executive Director

Toeing the line in Grant Park is like no other place on earth, especially when the start line looming in the distance says “Bank of America Chicago Marathon”. It has been my blessing over the last two years to be on Columbus Drive walking over the crumpled up sweatshirts and t-shirts of my fellow Chicagoans, moving forward with 45,000 of my close personal friends toward the beginning of such a life-changing and magnificent journey with Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run as our soundtrack.

Each year, the excitement and nervousness well deep in my spine. But as I begin my slow march to start, the feeling becomes an overwhelming calm, knowing I am doing something for myself, but also that I will be completing a 26.2 mile journey in service of others.

In those final moments before we start, I think about my singlet–who I wear it for, and how her words “Smell You Later” ironed on to the back give me the strength of purpose to continue forward. This is not something that I aim to do just for myself but for those in whose name I run, and for my daughter, age 8, who will be at miles 11 and 19 and at the finish in her Adventure Time hat with her big purple microphone cheering me and the whole city on.

Run with a purpose, I think. Run for something larger than me. Run for her, so that she will see that her mom can do something extraordinary, something that even a few years ago, she would have thought out of her reach.

The gun goes off long before I cross the threshold, and we joke that the Elite runners must have blown through the first 5k already. As we come alongside the Art Institute, I take my throw-away gloves off, fold them together and toss them to the side of the road, hoping they find a new home on the hands of someone in need, and I begin to run.

This is an amazing city. You don’t quite know how remarkable it is until you run through the streets and neighborhoods. In a cab or on the sidewalk surrounded by cars, you do not appreciate the silence, the true canyon lands of State Street, Jackson and LaSalle. Only on foot do you notice the rolling hills that are in Lincoln Park near the zoo. On Marathon Day, Boystown comes alive and provides energy at mile 8 that you need to keep you going to mile 10, where there is Elvis.


At mile 11, I see my daughter. She holds up her sign, cheers me on and tells me she is so proud. I go through the city past the Sears Tower. Out west through Charity Row in my charity runner singlet – everyone cheers just for you – no matter if you raised money to support their mission or another cause – everyone cheers just for you, and they call your name, and let you know you are more than halfway there.

The course extends out like a ribbon to the United Center, then back through Little Italy and Greektown. It’s the neighborhoods and diversity that make the city so great. People in lawn chairs sit on the sidewalk outside their houses with cowbells and make shift water stations, cheering.

Along Ashland it is desolate, but I know Pilsen is next so I pick up the pace. I want to see the colors and hear the music; I want to see my daughter’s face. She is there with my husband, ringing her own bell. She asks if I want a peanut butter sandwich. I grab it, along with a kiss and continue forward.

The streets are thick with volunteers at the aid stations, all smiles, with bands playing and piñatas. I move forward, excited at the prospect of what I get to see. We run through an industrial area, that once was empty but now the street is lined with people – somehow knowing exactly where runners need a lift, and I am lifted by their cheers all the way to Chinatown. Through the gate, I am recognized by a bystander I do not know, but I stop to get a hug and take a photo.

Under the freeway into Bridgeport, it starts to hurt; there is a throbbing pain in my leg that gets worse when I walk, so I don’t. I run. Sox Park is in the distance, and some older ladies on Wentworth Avenue are sitting in folding chairs, drinking beer and shouting “You just keep going!”

At the turn onto Michigan Avenue, a man stands at the apex of the corner; he is preaching “You are amazing. You’ve got this. I know you hurt. I know it has been a long way. I know it. You got this. You are going to finish.” I do hurt. It has been a long way. But I got this. I am going to finish.

Throughout the day, people run up beside me and ask “Who are you running for?” or “Tell me your story.” And I do. I explain the words on the back of my jersey, what they mean, how it feels to run for someone other than myself. I talk and then listen, because people who ask have a story themselves, and having a few minutes to run alongside another person helps the miles click by. 

Up Michigan Avenue I look for the blue fencing, and I always misjudge when it will come into view. It is farther away than I think it should be. Finally, I see flags line the course and a huge video screen at the end of the block. The cheering starts to get louder and I see the sign for Roosevelt Road.

That turn means my journey, started many months before, years even, is about to come to an end. I run up the hill even though my leg hurts and my body is tired. I run toward the 26-mile mark, and turn onto Columbus Drive once again. I pick up speed (although the photos say otherwise) and look for the faces in the crowd that belong to me as I cross the finish.

The moment at the end is joy, relief, and peace.

A smile crosses my face; I feel elated.


“Never again” I say, and I mean it for up to 45 minutes, maybe a whole hour, before I recall how it feels to run through these streets and I long for that feeling again, just once more, maybe if I train harder I can knock off a few minutes from my time.

Run for someone. Every day that I lace up my shoes, head out on a run weaving in and out of my neighborhood towards my beloved lake to the frozen beaches, I run for me. But on Marathon Day, I run for something larger than myself.

I run for her.

As you think about your own journey remember that you don’t have to go it alone. You can bring along the hopes and the aspirations of another. You can make your journey one that lasts beyond a single day or year. You can create in someone else the feeling that they can do what they set out to do – that the world is not one constrained by limits.

Running a marathon is hard; I am telling you right now, it is hard work. But running a marathon for someone else, well, that makes the work just a little bit easier, and the medal shine a little bit brighter.

The Bank of America Chicago Marathon is like no other race in the world. It is Chicago. It is our neighborhoods. It is our streets. It is not as flat as people would lead you to believe. And it is a life-changing, amazing journey.

If you choose to take this journey, I hope you will consider running for Girls on the Run- Chicago as one of our SoleMates. Raising money for Girls on the Run means that with every step you take towards your finish line, you are helping girls receive scholarships that allow them to participate in our program so they can reach their own personal goals and aspirations.

Registration for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon opens on February 19 at noon. Contact Cindy to sign up as a SoleMate, and we will be there for you with our Adventure Time hats and our giant purple microphones cheering you on all the way to the finish line.



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