July 9, 2014
By CLAIRE MOORMAN
Herald Staff Writer
JASPER — Fostering a love of physical activity coupled with boosting self esteem and positive body image are the goals of a group of community members who are helping bring a national youth group to Dubois County.
A local chapter of Girls on the Run is on track to arrive in Jasper after nearly a year and a half of work. The 10-week, after-school program is designed to teach young girls in third through fifth grades the values of a physically and mentally healthy lifestyle.
Jasper resident and mother Sarah Leonard, one of the local unit’s organizers, first learned about Girls on the Run several years ago while living and volunteering in Winston-Salem, N.C. She was impressed with the idea of a single organization that could instill a love of exercise in young people while at the same time preparing them to deal with the social issues of preteens.
“It just resonated with me. I have been a runner since a very young age and had good success and really feel like that helped me in life,” Leonard said. “This program was designed to help girls develop a love for running, but it’s not just about running. It’s a program about finding out who they are and self confidence, setting a goal and accomplishing it.”
When the program begins next spring, the participants will gather twice per week in the afternoons, likely at Fifth Street School, to discuss gossip, body image and self worth with their peers. Then, the girls will engage in physical activity, training bit by bit for the program’s big culminating event: a 5K run.
Leonard said the location of the run has not yet been set, but she does know that each girl will be paired with a running buddy — either an older family member or a community volunteer — who will run alongside her and give encouragement to finish the race.
“Just crossing the finish line is an amazing feeling for a lot of these girls,” Leonard said. “This program is designed to provide a way that they can maybe find an outlet through healthy activities so it will encourage healthy decision making along the way.”
In 2012, more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Leonard and co-organizer Audrey Werner are hopeful the program will show them that running long distances isn’t as daunting as it might seem.
“I enjoy working with youth in that capacity, motivating them to be physically fit and just challenging them with their fitness goals,” said Werner, who serves as the Jasper Middle School cross country coach and hosts Tuesday night family running events at Jerry Brewer Alumni Stadium for her students and their parents and siblings.
There will be a small fee to register for Girls on the Run when the enrollment period begins this fall, but Leonard and her team of supportive community members are working hard to raise money to create scholarships for those who need them. The organizers are teaming up with DC Multisport for this summer’s Kids Fun Run and festival during the Heartland Half Marathon.
On Aug. 29, the festival will open at 5 p.m. in Dave Buehler Plaza along the Riverwalk with fitness-related games and activities and healthy snacks. It will be followed at 6 p.m. by a 1.1-mile run, and proceeds will go to benefit Girls on the Run. To prepare, children in kindergarten to eighth grade can also participate in a challenge to log a cumulative total of 12 miles in the weeks prior to the Fun Run.
Marathon organizer Kenny Hochgesang is happy to join in the Girls on the Run efforts.
“We can encourage the kids to get out and get some exercise, and it will certainly improve their overall health,” he said.
Leonard’s four children will run in the events, and she dreams that in couple of years her twin daughters, Ellie and Emma, will become a part of her program. Werner’s oldest daughter, Allie, will be able to join right away.
“I’m very excited about that as both a coach and a mom,” Werner said. “I think that this program is going to come at a perfect time for (Allie) to realize her inner beauty and what’s really important in life.”
The first year will be piloted in Jasper only, but Leonard, Werner and their team will continue to seek potential sites in the other communities of the county so the program can spread. In addition to the 5K event, the participants will cap their 10 weeks with some sort of community service project which the girls will help choose.
“I’m passionate about the issues and I’m passionate about the program itself,” Leonard said. “I just think the way the program is designed, it really is motivational and inspirational for these girls.”
Contact Claire Moorman firstname.lastname@example.org.