Girls on the Run empowering local youth for nearly a decade

The Girls on the Run program has been hosted in Manistee County for nearly a decade. (Courtesy photo)

The Girls on the Run program has been hosted in Manistee County for nearly a decade. (Courtesy photo)

MANISTEE COUNTY — With so many outside forces capable of influencing how a girl may think of herself, it’s of the utmost importance now, more than ever, to encourage them to focus inward.

Girls on the Run is a nonprofit program devoted to that inner beauty and for nearly a decade has given Manistee County youth an opportunity to acquire the tools of empowerment.

“It’s not just a running program, it’s so much more,” said the region’s program coordinator Karen Ripke of District Health Department No. 10. “The mission is to inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident, using fun experience-based curriculum, which creatively integrates running.

“It’s helping the girls develop skills and confidence, positive self esteem and positive self body image to allow them, as they grow into young women, to be happy and proud of who they are and not try to follow the norm or conform to a box of what people think they should be.”

Girls on the Run was developed in South Carolina in 1996 and has since grown into an international program, operated regionally by separate councils.

Ripke said the 10-county region that encompasses Manistee was the first in Michigan to adopt Girls on the Run in 2001. Manistee, itself, began hosting the program in 2007.

Each year, a Manistee County school district has offered its facilities to host the after-school program, which runs two days a week for 10 weeks from the start of the year and into the spring. Female students in third to eighth grade across the county — from any district or home schooled — are welcome to join.

Volunteer coaches are trained and equipped with the materials necessary to teach the course, which culminates in a celebratory 5K fun run. Girls on the Run consists of age divisions, third through fifth graders and sixth through eighth grade, which is considered the Heart and Soul program.

“They’re run very similar, however the curriculums differ, designed to fit the issues that the girls are facing in that age group,” Ripke said.

Each session runs for about an hour and a half and focuses on a specific topic, all of which are tied into physical activities along the way.

“One lesson might focus on working as a team, one on healthy eating, one on bullying and how to handle it,” Ripke said. “And in those lessons, they’re actually running and doing games.

“So, we might talk about a topic like how to express your feelings, and the girls will then run while thinking about it, and come back to share with the group.”

Manistee Area Public Schools are hosting this year’s program, in which Ripke said 30 students have been participating.

While learning valuable lessons through the curriculum, students are also preparing for the 5K run slated for 6 p.m. on May 18 at Cartier Park in Ludington.

“In a hidden way, they’re training for a 5K,” Ripke said. “The Manistee team will be combining with the schools from Mason County and Oceana County for the final run.

“It’s not a timed event, because the goal is to complete it,” she added. “They can run it, walk it, mix a bit of both, but their goal is to finish.”

The ultimate goal, of course, is to finish the program with a greater sense of self worth.

“I’ve been involved since the beginning, so it’s a program pretty near and dear to my heart,” Ripke said. “I wish I had it when I was that age. It really gives girls the life skills and confidence to be who they are.

“That age group, with everything on social media and TV or magazines, can feel like they need to look or be a certain way,” she said. “This program really encourages girls to step out of that box of who they think they should be and encourages them to be exactly who they are and who they want to be.”

Ripke said the organization is always welcoming of volunteer coaches. To become involved or for more information on the local program, call Ripke at (231) 305-8659 or email karen.ripke@girlsontherun.org. For general information on Girls on the Run, visit www.girlsontherun.org.

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Posted by Dylan Savela

Dylan is the county reporter for the News Advocate, he also is in charge of the Small Town Life, religion and senior pages. He can be reached at (231) 398-3111 or dsavela@pioneergroup.com.

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