Berlin, Vermont – “I think I want to try running track next year,” an 11-year-old girl tells her dad, who looks down at her with a surprised smile. They are both breathing hard, and the girl is visibly reverberating with excitement and pride.
The pair had just finished a 5K that capped an eight-week session of Girls on the Run Vermont. The program is open to girls in elementary school, and their Heart & Sole program has a specialized curriculum for middle school girls. Each lesson is designed to engage their confidence, positive decision making, physical, social, and emotional competencies. Focusing on the whole child using a fun and engaging curriculum carries over into confidence in school, at home, and with peers. Each session is carefully built to inspire the girl’s strengths and strong sense of self and ends with an Energy Award that recognizes one individual for her positive contribution to the group that day.
On a particular Tuesday, the lesson of the day was compromise. The activities required the girls to work together toward a common goal using strong communication, compromise and patience. Another week they dove into community, belonging, and how we help each other, capping the day with potting flowering plants and delivering them to local business owners who have been struggling through the pandemic economy. Each session has a lesson, reflection, and of course, running, walking, or movement. A lesson never passed without a whole lot of laughter.
“We support Girls on the Run Vermont because of its lifelong impact on girls’ health and wellness. When I attend the 5K run each year, I hear again and again from participants that they didn’t think they could do it and they are so proud when they cross that finish line,” says Megan Peek, Director of Community Relations and Health Promotion at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont. “The energy, positive reinforcement and sense of community is powerful to witness.”
The program started in Windham County in 1999 and has since grown to challenge and inspire girls in all 50 states. In Vermont, the program impacts about 2,700 kids in 170 locations each year with an impressive cadre of volunteer coaches.
“I am thrilled that we were able to offer the program this spring after having to cancel our 2020 season due to Covid,” says Rachel Desautels, Executive Director of Girls on the Run. “With Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont’s continued support, girls across the state finally had the opportunity to connect with their peers and coaches in person again while experiencing the joy of the positive and uplifting lessons that are the foundation of our program. Building self-confidence is at the core of Girls on the Run, and girls need that messaging now more than ever after navigating through the pandemic.”
With the pandemic, the program shifted slightly this year, to smaller teams and of course Covid protocols in place. “The girls are just incredible. Running in masks is harder than it looks, and it simply didn’t faze them. It was incredible to watch them grow and reach for their goals during an otherwise challenging year,” said Julie Bier, a volunteer coach in Montpelier.
In past years, the celebratory capstone event was held at the Essex Fairgrounds for girls from the northern part of the state, at Brattleboro Union High School for the southern Vermonters, and at Castleton University for those from the central part of the state. These 5K runs traditionally brings kids and their families together from every corner of Vermont. This year each team is celebrating the accomplishment with smaller groups in their communities.
“I really liked it this year because it was with the girls I have been training with and who I know,” says Lucy Copans, who has been a participant in the Montpelier program for two years. “Last time the run was really exciting with all of the music and tents and kids from other schools. I am happy we did it this way this year because—you know, Covid—and it just felt like a fun run with my friends and my dad. It feels amazing to know I can run that far. I didn’t know I was so fast!”
Reflecting on Lucy’s experience, Rachel Desautels notes, “It is so interesting to see how it impacts all girls differently. They don’t need to be a runner to get a ton out of the program. For some, it’s about finding an appreciation for movement, but the social emotional piece is what sets it apart from most athletic programs. It allows girls to gain an appreciation for all kinds of physical activity in an accessible way that is often less intimidating than team sports.”
The girls in the program cross the full spectrum of socio-economic, race, ethnicity, and body types. A study led by Dr. Maureen Weiss examined the impact of the Girls on the Run program. 85 percent of girls in the program felt they had an increased confidence and connection to others. The girls who were the least active at the start of the program increased their physical activities by 40 percent. Nearly every girl—97 percent—felt they learned critical life skills in the program.
“It’s incredible to think about what these girls will go on to be and to do,” says Megan Peek. “Being among them makes me feel that our future is bright.”
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont is Vermont’s only local, not-for-profit health plan. For over 30 years, the company has been enhancing the health and well-being of the Vermonters by offering innovative plans to individuals, seniors and businesses. Our employees are dedicated to developing new ways to support high quality care and programs and events that promote wellness. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. For more information, visit www.bcbsvt.com.
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