Girls on the Run believe “All girls are born with purpose and power.”
Girls on the Run is an after-school program designed to inspire girls of all abilities to recognize and embrace their inner strength. The program is designed for third through fifth grade girls and offers lessons to improve physical and emotional health. They also have programming designed for girls in sixth through eighth grade, theHeart & Sole program. The girls learn valuable life skills that they can use at school, with friends, and at home.
GoodSport caught up with Girls on the Run CEO Elizabeth Kunzwho discovered the program while working for the YMCA.
You started as a volunteer in 2002 and have been with Girls on the Run since then! How has your path led you to ultimately lead this organization?
My path to Girls on the Run was a long and winding one. I spent the first 18 years of my career in male-dominated environments where I did not feel I had an opportunity to fully contribute or utilize my talents. So much of our time is spent at work, and my career was not sparking my passion or providing any sense of purpose. This lack of meaning led me to be a bit of an Eeyore with a “woe is me” attitude about my life. It was not until 2002, at 39 years old, that I finally woke up. I had an aha moment and awakened to the power I had to lead my life versus letting it lead me. I realized I was the author of my life and could make intentional choices that felt authentic to me. The first decision I made was to volunteer for Girls on the Run. I did not come to Girls on the Run with any vision of being the CEO. I simply wanted to make a difference in a way that felt meaningful to me and to surround myself with people who cared about the same things that I care about.
We are all living through a hard time right now, and I hope my life experience shows that it is in challenging moments that we find our power to truly learn and grow. My decision to volunteer at Girls on the Run ultimately led to my having the opportunity to join the staff in 2006, which led to me being appointed CEO in 2008. The last 12 years have been the best in my life because I have been able to fulfill my ultimate purpose for being on this planet. By strengthening the voices of girls and women, I am helping to create a more just, equitable and peaceful world.
What spoke to you about the program on a personal level?
Many people are attracted to Girls on the Run because they love to run. This was not the case for me. I was drawn to the program because I emphatically believe in the power of girls and women to create a better world for all people. Girls and women must feel confident to use our voices to eliminate gender biases and outdated systems that keep us from achieving our limitless potential. The comment we hear most frequently from our volunteer coaches is “I wish I had Girls on the Run when I was a girl,” and this certainly is my sentiment as well. I had to intentionally unlearn all the limiting beliefs – both internally and externally reinforced – that had infiltrated my brain as a child and young woman.
How are you handling the current environment, (like) schools being in session?
At Girls on the Run, we are committed to offering accessible programming, as all girls deserve a place to grow, connect and shine. The pandemic is affecting schools and communities in different ways, and families are seeking new ways to provide enrichment activities for their children. In response to this, we adapted our programs to be offered in three ways: in-person, virtual or a hybrid model of both in-person and virtual. The learning goals of each of these models are the same; the curriculum has simply been adapted to work in a virtual space, if necessary. The health and well-being of our participants and coaches is our top priority, and coach training and safety protocols have all been updated. Whether girls are in school or engaging in remote learning, we want them to be able to access and benefit from the transformative experience of Girls on the Run, as nurturing and strengthening our physical and emotional health during the pandemic is more important than ever.
What is Girls on the Run doing in the face of recent social justice tensions?
Girls on the Run envisions a world where all girls are free to know and activate their limitless potential. We see the dignity and humanity in all people, and this belief is showcased in our core values and curriculum learning goals. We have a longstanding commitment to inclusion, diversity, equity and access (IDEA) and recognize the intentional, thoughtful work required to ensure sustainable outcomes. Our commitment to creating lasting change includes:
- Developing a long-range sustainable IDEA strategy for the organization that includes clearly defined goals and targets
- Broadening representation across our coach, board and staff leadership
- Updating or creating additional IDEA resources and training for staff and volunteers
- Reviewing curricula and activity materials to ensure relevant reflection of all participants’ identities and life experiences
- Reviewing vendor, contractual and partner relationships to ensure diverse representation
- Reviewing all policies to ensure they are inclusive and equitable
Which lessons do you feel are the most important for girls right now?
Emotional intelligence is critical to building an enriching and purposeful life; therefore, social-emotional learning is at the heart of all our program lessons. Additionally, we want girls to recognize the important connection between their physical and emotional health, particularly now when social distancing is leading to a decrease in physical activity. Lastly, fostering a sense of belonging and connectedness to others is so important right now when many of our girls are not going to school. That is why we launched virtual programming and created parent resources like the GOTR at Home kit so girls can participate, feel connected and stay active from anywhere.
Specifically, our curriculum includes lessons such as:
- Not being a bystander but being a standbyer
- Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes to develop empathy for their experiences
- Valuing the worth of every member of the team
- Using our voices in ways that matter
- Making choices that create a better world
What advice would you give to young women looking to get involved in/lead a non-profit organization/business?
As you saw in my own story, a great way to get involved in a nonprofit is to volunteer! At Girls on the Run, we rely on volunteer coaches to bring our curriculum to life with the girls in our program. Being a role model for girls and seeing the measurable impact of our programs is an inspiring way for anyone to start their journey in the nonprofit sector. Not only does this provide the opportunity to empower girls, but it is also a chance for volunteer coaches to personally grow into their most authentic selves. To learn more about getting involved with Girls on the Run, visit girlsontherun.org
Photo Credit: Photos provided by Girls on the Run