Brittney Burns – Staff Writer
Students at Mountain View Intermediate and South Macon Elementary have spent the fall training two times a week, becoming emersed in community projects, and building bonds that will last a life time through the schools’ respective Girls on the Run clubs. Last Sunday, they competed with more than 500 girls from across the region at the Asheville Outlets for the Fall 5K.
Girls on the Run of Western North Carolina began with 20 girls in 2002 and has now served more than 11,000 girls. In 2016, more than 1,200 girls have taken part in the life-changing program and have learned to believe in their own limitless potential.
The annual 5K was family-friendly and non-competitive and was open to the public. Runners and walkers of all ages and levels were encouraged to register. All proceeds from the event benefit the Girls on the Run of Western North Carolina scholarship fund, which aims to make the nonprofit program accessible to all girls in the community, regardless of their ability to pay the registration fee.
“At Girls on the Run, it is our policy to never turn away a girl based on financial need, so your registration will help enable us to reach more girls,” said Amy Renigar, executive director of Girls on the Run of Western North Carolina. “This fall, 80 percent of our program sites are Title 1 schools, so we provided an additional $35,000 to ensure the girls in need have healthy snacks, athletic shoes and scholarship assistance.”
At MVI, 19 fifth grade girls have practiced twice a week for the past 10 weeks, running about 30 to 45 minutes each day to prepare for last Sunday’s 5K in Asheville. MVI Coach Michele Baer said that they work with the girls on their pace, and teach strategies to complete the 5K. MVI’s team consists of four coaches and one sign language interpreter.
“This program is important to MVI because it empowers our young girls to build positive self-images and responses to everyday situations that they may face throughout their life,” said Baer. “We do all of this through a workout and discussion based program that uses fun, movement incorporated activities to teach these important life skills. The 5K itself is an important event for all participants (and coaches) because it is what we have worked towards for the past 10 weeks. All of the skills they have learned and all the practice they have put in is finally being tested and showcased. It is a fun event where they get to dress up, be around their friends they have made this season, meet new girls from other parts of WNC, and participate in exciting activities before and after the race. It truly is a great experience for them to be able to cross that finish line and receive their medal that shows others, but more importantly themselves, that they can and did do something awesome that maybe they didn’t know they could do.”
MVI’s Girls on the Run program will continue this Spring, and will be open to 6th grade girls at the school.
More than just running a 5K, Baer noted that the club gives the girls a chance to give back to the community.
“Each season we complete a Community Impact Project to help give back to the community,” said Baer. “Last year we donated items (food, toys, etc.) to the Appalachian Animal Rescue Center and ended up being able to give them almost 700 items collected from our school. For the fall session this year, the girls chose to donate their time helping at REACH for Macon County. They were able to help decorate for Christmas, put together welcome bags with necessary supplies, make Christmas bags for children, and help out with gardening. These experiences are so fun for the girls and they love helping to give back to their community and hopefully make a difference.”
South Macon Elementary School had six girls who participated in the 5K race on Sunday, and had a total of 15 girls on the school’s team who worked throughout the fall to train with the club.
South Macon Elementary School liaison Rena Sutton said that last Sunday’s race being located in Arden made it difficult for some girls to compete and hopefully in the future, races will be held closer to Franklin to allow more participants in the area. Sutton noted that having a race in Franklin would be a dream, and something they hope to accomplish in the future.
According to Sutton, all 15 girls on the team worked diligently throughout the season to train and better their talents. “The girls have been in a comprehensive program developed by the Girls on the Run program,” said Sutton. “It is a total enrichment opportunity that improves empowerment of young girls through understanding of the value of each girl to impact their lives and the lives of others. Girls have healthy snacks, fun activities, physical fitness, and team enhancement activities. Girls learn to incorporate fun and goal setting into their walking and running, and eventually build skills and endurance to succeed. Everyone learns to appreciate others and their accomplishments and to relate to each other with appreciation and kindness.”
South Macon Elementary’s team has three very active coaches and a trained back-up coach. Ashley Boatwright and Angela Wood are the head coaches. Leighann Hancock is a qualified coach serving as an assistant. The back-up coaches if needed are Alicia Price and Sutton. Sutton has served as the school liaison since the first program in the 2001-2002 school year when Girls on the Run first started at South Macon.
“Girls need to realize their true potential as human beings,” Sutton said of the importance of the program. “They need to be equipped with a positive attitude based on knowledge of themselves and others, understanding that differences can be an advantage, that their strength is based in their whole set of talents and behaviors. Beauty is more than skin-deep, put-downs are not cool, and girls have unlimited potential in all areas of life. Additionally, the girls that have had the program become more self-confident, even better friends, have more coping skills, and it is obvious in class, the hallways, and playground. Commitment to the program trains them to be committed to other wonderful opportunities such as their education.”