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Black Mountain Elementary girls 10 to 13 years old are preparing to run a 5K race Dec. 5 at UNC Asheville. They are members of Girls on the Run and meet twice weekly after school.

Theirs is not a running club, but rather a character-development program for pre-adolescent girls that lasts 12 weeks.

“Girls on the Run is about more than just running,” April Roy, one of the sponsors, said. “These girls are building confidence and learning kindness skills. They are learning that they have to be confident and stand up for themselves to make it in today’s world.”

Girls on the Run was established in 1996 in Charlotte. The mission of the program is to provide preteen girls with the tools that both enhance their individual strengths and help them navigate life. In more than 225 cities across the U.S., there are more than 120,000 Girls on the Run volunteers helping 168,000 girls. Girls on the Run, a national organization, appeared in Buncombe County in 2002 and is now in 14 surrounding counties. Some 1,000 girls in those counties participated last year.

“I am hard pressed to think of another after-school program that focuses on helping our young girls develop confidence, build their self-esteem, and earn leadership skills, all while focusing on a healthy lifestyle,” Norm Bossert, Black Mountain Elementary principal, said. “Moreover, this program helps build friendships while building strong bodies. We need enough adult help and students to sponsor a spring team as well.”

Girls on the Run shares its belief that every girl can embrace who she is and define who she wants to be. Every girl can rise to any challenge and can literally change the world. Simply put, girls can do whatever they want in life.

“It’s really nice being in a group of girls where you can just be yourself,” Isabelle Hale, a fourth-grade student, said.

The core values of Girls on the Run recognize the power and responsibility of being intentional in decision-making.

Girls learn to embrace differences and find strength in connectedness. They learn to express joy, optimism and gratitude through their words, thoughts and actions. They learn to nurture the physical, emotional and spiritual health of each person and to lead with an open heart and to assume positive intent. They learn to stand up not just for themselves, but others as well. They learn to learn, dream, live and run.

“Being part of Girls on the Run helps me get better at running and teaches me teamwork,” Ava Banzhoff, a fourth-grade student, said.

For its programs, Girls on the Run administrators select schools that have an adequate, interested population with sponsors.

Each group has no more than 20 participants, and the group must be dedicated to meeting twice weekly.

The fee is $130 for 12 weeks that runs from September to December. Scholarships are available.

Girls do not have to be athletic, nor do they have to enjoy running to be part of Girls on the Run.

Each meeting has a theme and goals. Girls learn how to handle bullying more successfully. They learn to breathe, think and then speak so they won’t regret what they have said. They learn to play games that stress leadership and provide exercise. They learn that one of the most important things they must have is a positive attitude.

“I like getting exercise and running in the outdoors,” fourth-grade student Abby Reitzel said.

In preparing for their upcoming 5K race, the girls learn that it doesn’t matter if you run, walk or crawl, because everyone that crosses the finish line is a winner. Girls learn early in the three-month program that positive self-talk is a good thing. They reinforce themselves with phrases like, “I can do it.” They also tell themselves that they are smart, funny and pretty.

For more about Girls on the Run at Black Mountain Elementary School, contact April Roy at apricott1971@yahoo.com.

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