For girls from the third to the eighth grade, life is becoming more complicated. These kids are growing up and moving into those insecure teenage years.
For Amy Frisch, a social worker who deals a lot with adolescent girls, those challenges are at the forefront of her mind. They’re also why she’s starting a local chapter of Girls on the Run. “We’re really hoping to launch this program in Ulster County – one that inspires girls to be healthy and confident, and to be strong girls who’ve found their voice,” Frisch said.
Girls on the Run is a North American non-profit program that started in North Carolina in 1996. It now serves more than 130,000 girls in more than 200 cities each year. A big draw is that it helps foster positive body image for girls.
Frisch, herself a runner, knows how important that activity has been to her as an adult woman. “I actually my first half-marathon last March, and it was in the middle of that half-marathon that I started getting this idea for Girls on the Run and how important it is. I was inspired,” she said.
Frisch set up a Girls on the Run program for grades three to five at Lenape Elementary School in New Paltz. Deborah Walnicki, a human-services major at SUNY New Paltz student who interned for Frisch, helped the social worker set up the running program. She said building the program is important to her, too.
“The focus is working with young girls for empowerment,” Walnicki said. “Even though it’s a running program, it’s non-competitive. The focus is on building a cohesive group so that the girls are learning social skills and anti-bullying.”
Girls on the Run also aims to teach young women how damaging a clique mentality can be.
Frisch said she sees a lot of value in the running program, especially because the pre-teen years are so hard. “It’s really the formative years to them,” she explained. “Twelve is the highest-risk age for teenage girls. It’s where they’re starting to form their identity and beginning to separate from their parents. They’re stepping out to find out who they are as young girls.”
Frisch said she believes Girls on the Run presents a healthy alternative for young women who might otherwise begin to make unhealthy choices. “It’s a highly critical time, and they depend a lot on their peers for their support.”
Developmentally, girls at that age can start to see their friends as more important than their parents. Fitting in with their friends becomes vital.
Now that the Lenape Girls on the Run group is just about set up, the two women are trying to make inroads at the New Paltz Middle School. “We’re in communication with the middle school – Dr. Wiesenthal at the middle school – and we’re hoping that he will find some space for us as well,” Frisch said. Bad weather and snowstorms have kept Frisch from meeting with Richard Wiesenthal, the middle school principal. But they’re hopeful that a Girls on the Run group for grades six-eight will be started there too.
Anticipating approval in both schools, coaches are already lined up for the Lenape and the middle school groups. The ten-week running program climaxes in a 5K run event. Classes are twice a week and last 90 minutes. Frisch said that for 2014 the group will be small – up to 20 girls – and it’ll be first-come, first-served for registration.
Frisch was involved in Girls on the Run last year because she was a “running buddy.” During the final run, each girl picks a buddy to run with them and encourage them during the race. The buddy is usually a parent, family member or mentor.
“It’s a tremendously wonderful community-supported program,” said Frisch. “There’s lots of opportunity for the community to jump in and help out. They could do like a water station or help with tattoos the day of the race – to try to get the girls motivated or jazzed the day of the race. That’s one of the things I really love about the program. It has so many opportunities for our community to come together and really rally around the girls.”
Signing up for the program costs $135, but that includes the lessons, a T-shirt, a water bottle, and entry into the 5K. Registration for the spring program starts on March 3. Sign up or learn more by going to https://girlsontherunhv.org/.