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When standing up means standing alone

24 Feb

One morning, while glancing through Instagram, I saw this:

arm wrestle

“Due to recent events at school, I am deleting my account. I am sorry… it is for the better. I hope no one gets mad. Please don’t. And don’t ask about it. I will not reply. Don’t get mad. This is my final post. Best wishes and no hard feelings.”

The post was authored by my daughter, and to be honest, I was a bit surprised to see it. I follow her account, mostly to make sure she is posting appropriate things and that no one is bullying her or being inappropriate. She follows me back so she can keep an eye on me.

I knew there were some issues with a few girls at school, who, she said, were putting her in the middle, and demanding loyalty, and then just as they had turned on each other, they had turned on her.  Like so many girls at this age, she found herself on the outs; at first a prize to be won in a competition between two friends, and then discarded after they had tired of the game.

As my daughter and I talked through the specifics, I was reminded of a time in the 8th grade when I had suddenly and without warning, been cast out of my group of friends. So huddled under her covers, with the cat between us, I shared my story.

I stood at the edge of the farmer’s field facing Andrea. She had said she wanted to talk, but the presence of two 10th graders who I did not know made that seem unlikely. There was going to be a fight.

The week prior, I had gone from being Andrea’s best friend and confidant to being the girl on the outside of the circle. There are a lot of things that likely led to this particular moment, but in this situation, looking back, it had a lot to do with not going along with what the rest of the group was doing.

One day, as Andrea asserted herself as the Queen Bee of our group, my unwillingness to participate in the bad choices the group was making put me on the outs. But this isn’t a story about Andrea yelling at me on the dirt road. It isn’t about her throwing the first punch, and me having the presence of mind to duck, and then land a blow of my own. It isn’t about standing my ground and not showing them that I was hurt, while she picked herself out of the dirt, and yelled obscenities while walking away. This isn’t about the hot tears that streamed down my face as I walked home that day. This is not a story about me, or Andrea.

This is a story about Susan.

Susan was smartest person in our class. Neither popular nor unpopular, Susan was well-liked and respected by almost everyone at school, yet she was not a part of the group of girls with perfectly feathered hair or asymmetrical new wave cuts who got the attention of all the boys and the admiration of the girls. Susan was kind. She was funny without being the clown. She was poised. She was responsible, always finished her assignments, never late for class, and never participated in gossip.

Starting that January of 1985, I spent every single hour alone. I had been cast out and my behaviors prior to that had isolated me from everyone else. This was my bed, I had made it, and I had to lie in it. Every day I found my way to an empty lunch table. I sat down and opened a book, pretending to read.

One day Susan walked up with a smile and asked if she could join me. I mumbled yes. We had been in classes together for a year and a half, but had never talked to each other beyond group assignments. Susan ate lunch with me that day, and in the days after, her group of friends joined us at the table, and for the rest of the year I was not alone.

I wish I could say that we became lifelong best friends but that isn’t what happened. We started high school the next year, and I found my way to new friendships and a place in the Art Department while she pursued her interests in journalism and student government.  She went on to be our valedictorian, and represented our school in a citywide competition, editor of the yearbook, and student body president. I went on to get acrylic paint on my 501s, serve as Model United Nations Ambassador, did Mock Trial, and was a member of the Speech and Debate Team.

It is worth saying that the girls she led to that table 30 years ago are still her friends.

When we reconnected 20 years after graduation via Facebook, I thanked her and let her know how much she had meant to me, how hard that year had been, and how it was appreciated. You forget to thank people for kindness when the wounds are deep and fresh and you are all of 14 years old.

To her, it was nothing; it was just what you were supposed to do. She was simply being Susan. She saw a girl who was in pain, struggling, and she sat down next to her, and made me feel less alone. “Kindness is free,” she said, and so she had been kind.

She noticed my running, and said “You should do a marathon! I’ll do one with you!” And with her encouragement and a lot of naivety I registered for the 2010 Portland Marathon, which Susan ran in 4:15 and I completed well after that.

Susan is the girl we all hope to bring out in our own daughters; she is the one who shows up not only for her friends, but for girls without anyone. She stands up for what is right, and is comfortable in her own skin. She never acted dumb to please boys; she fulfilled her responsibilities and was a good daughter and friend.

Today she has a son of her own, loves to run marathons with her sister, makes jewelry and is a pharmacist. She roots for the University of Washington Huskies and the Seattle Seahawks. She notices the changing of the seasons in the Columbia River Gorge where she makes her home, travels often, and has a favorite donut shop. She is still a good friend, and a good daughter, and a great mother.

In 1985 Susan was everything I was not. And every so often, I am reminded of her kindness and deeply moved. Any kindness I offer is not so much a pay it forward, as it is, paying her back.

Small acts of kindness matter.

When I think about what I want for the girls we serve through our program, I think about planting the seed for kindness. I think about building a world where girls feel strong enough to stand up for themselves, even if it means being on the outs, and where girls support each other, and build each other, rather than tear each other down.

Part of being a Girl on the Run is living our values.  Part of being a Girl on the Run is sitting at the table with the girl who is alone. Part of being a Girl on the Run is making a difficult choice not to go along just to fit in.  Part of being a Girl on the Run is standing up for yourself, even when, and especially when doing so means possibly standing alone.

These are all lessons that we must learn as we grow up, and it is my hope that the safe place our coaches provide within the curriculum of Girls on the Run and Girls on Track will help this generation of girls navigate these situations with the grace of Susan, while avoiding the path Andrea and I took.

My daughter and I then turned the conversation to how she should approach school the next day. Did these girls who so casually cast her aside really value her as a person? And if not, were there any other girls at school who did?  What did it mean to be a friend?  What did she remember from her time at Girls on the Run?

When we finished our talk, my daughter decided she would rather be on the outs than continue to be the rope pulled in different directions by her two friends.  She would use her “I Feel’ “When You” statements to let the girls know how their behavior affected her, and she would make connections with a few of her other friends. Unlike me, I know her friendships with other girls are strong, going back to preschool, and I will encourage her to value those relationships and to call into question anyone in her life that wants to cut her off from others.

But she also decided to be like Susan. While at the same time using her voice to assert her personhood and independence, she would also offer the two whose behaviors had isolated her, her friendship.

I don’t know if she is really planning on deleting her account. It is still there, and I think that it is good for the two of us to have open communication about our lives and friendships at appropriate levels.  I get to see what she is interested in, and she gets to see me post pictures of what’s for dinner.

GOTRC featured on Divergent author, Veronica Roth’s blog

27 Jan

Veronica RothSo, I’m guessing maybe a few of our girls, coaches and parents have read one of Veronica Roth’s books–Divergent, Insurgent, Allegiant or Four: A Divergent Collection. Scratch that, a few billion of you have probably read them. And if you haven’t, then you should. They are amazing.

Having said that, you can understand how excited we were when the the New York Times best-selling author recently reached out to Girls on the Run-Chicago, asking if she could include us as one of a handful of organizations being featured as part of her AbnegationDonation campaign. As stated on her blog, “the idea behind this is that if you’re anything like me, you want to help and get involved, but you’re not always sure how— and the more we know about what others are doing, the easier it is to join in.”

Click here to read the full Q&A with GOTRC Communications Manager, Cathy Kruse, and sparkle fingers to Veronica for this incredible opportunity!

A lesson in evolution

15 Jan

walden blog photo

by coach Linsey Friedman

When a group of pre-adolescent girls is asked to come up with a community impact project, it’s like asking a group of toddlers to pick ONE toy in a toy store. The girls came up with so many ideas we couldn’t even write them all down. The girls from Walden Elementary School are involved in many philanthropic efforts, but often these efforts are clothing/toy drives and offer limited opportunity to experience a personal investment in the outcome. This was their chance to help the world and they wanted to do EVERYTHING! Their ideas ranged from raising money for diseases that we had never even heard of, to raking leaves for seniors in our neighborhood. As coaches, our job was to narrow their choices to tasks they could complete within one GOTR session, and still see the tangible results of their efforts.

Ultimately, two themes continued to emerge: sickness and children. The girls decided to make blankets and cards for critically ill children in hospitals. This allowed the girls to tap in to so many of the strengths that they had fostered throughout the GOTR season. Some had good fine motor skills, some were creative, some were good artists, some could express themselves well, some were very compassionate, and some were good leaders. The list of strengths that they identified in themselves to complete this task was inspiring and truly demonstrated the success of this program.

When the day came for them to complete their community impact project, the girls were extremely enthusiastic and really enjoyed working together. Daryn (4th grade) said “I felt like I was making the world a better place.” Sara (4th grade) said, “It makes me feel good inside to help others.” Bella (4th grade) expressed that she felt proud, and Juliet (4th grade) explained, “I imagined the faces of the kids who would receive these blankets. I hope it makes them smile a little.”

Ultimately, our team partnered with ProjectLinus in the Chicagoland area. According to their website, ProjectLinus is a national organization. Volunteers make blankets and donate them to ProjectLinus. ProjectLinus then takes the blankets to hospitals and shelters. They keep them in a closet or other location where children are able to pick a blanket and then keep it as their own. This organization provides an enjoyable and rewarding service opportunity for children, while also providing warmth, security, and the personal touch of something created by loving hands to children who are ill or in traumatic situations.

Our team had more hope, love and compassion to share than could be expressed by the blankets alone, so they decided to create cards for the children as well. This desire to inspire and motivate children who need it most was definitely fostered by their GOTR experience. I know I speak for all of the coaches involved this season when I say that we were so proud of our girls and honored to have witnessed their evolution. Their increased physical strength, speed and endurance was matched, if not surpassed, by their growing self-knowledge, self-confidence, and self-worth. Their desire to share these amazing lessons is very simply exemplified by Emma and the card she made pictured here.

Help us bring our life-changing program to more girls

18 Dec

Finish line victory

Girls on the Run changes lives.

How do we know? We see it happen every season. It’s the slow build of self-discovery when a girl learns who she is and what she stands for. It’s the transformation from twelve individual girls to one team, working together and supporting one another. It’s the light and the look on the face of every girl who crosses the finish line of our celebratory 5k with an understanding of what it means to set a goal and achieve it. And it’s that feeling of “I can” that will last a lifetime.

But why listen to us when you can hear straight from the families who’ve been impacted by the power of the program? The following statements were pulled directly from the more than 2,100 needs-based scholarship applications we received this year alone. The question asked was, “why do you want your daughter to participate in Girls on the Run?”

“Kira has low self-esteem and doesn’t recognize how unique and special she is.  She doubts her abilities as an athlete and often doesn’t believe that she can do the things other kids can do.  My husband and I are hoping that participating in Girls on the Run will help Kira develop an awareness of and appreciation for her abilities and strengths.  We’re also hopeful that she’ll forge bonds with the girls in the program, since she tends toward introversion and seeing herself as separate from others.”

“Bridget blossomed last year with the help of this program. She became less shy, she was willing to step out of her comfort zone and participate in an activity. She discovered she was good at and enjoyed something athletic. This program was a blessing and I am so happy that our school decided to continue after its first year last year.”

“My husband had to take a new job with a paycut in November, which in itself has been tough. I am currently experiencing a serious eye condition which is zapping any extra funds we had saved up. We are barely making it paycheck to paycheck right now but look forward to the summer when we will hopefully be able to start getting caught up again. I would greatly appreciate a scholarship for my daughter this year. It is humbling and embarrassing to ask for, but after seeing the young lady my daughter grew into after last year’s GOTR and how much she loved it, I can’t bear to tell her she will be unable to participate this year.”

The transformation is unmistakable. And you can play a role by making a tax-deductible donation today.

Stories like these reinforce why our program matters. Now let us tell you why your support matters too. Girls on the Run-Chicago receives no city, state or federal funding and instead is 100% reliant on support from donors like you. More than 84% of the girls in our program receive some sort of financial assistance. Without it, they’d be unable to participate.

During this holiday season, please make a gift that will help change the life of a girl. She’ll learn life skills that will help her navigate her world confidently. She will cross the finish line knowing, firsthand, that big things are possible when you keep moving forward.

And you’ll know, firsthand, that you helped her do it.

Please visit www.gotrchicago.org/support/donate to make a tax-deductible donation today.

Thank you.

Kris Smart, Executive Director

Adventures of a new site coordinator

21 Jan

Image

 

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:

GOTRC 5K SERIES CENTRAL REGION NORTH REGION SOUTH/WEST REGION
5K LOCATION Grant Park, Chicago, IL *Lake County St. James Farm, Warrenville, IL
SERVING City of Chicago
sites
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 info@gotrchicago.org with questions and/or feedback, and we thank you for your continued support and service.

Sincerely,
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 info@gotrchicago.org]

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 info@gotrchicago.org, 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.

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

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