By Christina Whiting
A national program that uses running to encourage self-confidence in third through fifth grade girls has come to Homer for the first time.
Partnering with Girls on the Run Southcentral for technical support, training and organizational leadership, Homer’s Haven House started a pilot project on Sept. 9 with eight girls. The program teaches girls to focus on individual strengths to achieve a sense of accomplishment. They are given tools to make positive choices and engage in healthy behaviors they will carry throughout their lives.
The program includes a 24-lesson curriculum of life skills taught by volunteer coaches, and teaches girls how to understand themselves, value relationships and teamwork, and understand how they connect with the world. Small teams of 8-20 meet twice a week for eight weeks. The program ends with a 5k Fun Run.
“Haven House had been looking to bring the program to Homer for the past two years,” said Haven House Executive Director Jessica Lawmaster. “We focus on prevention of domestic violence and sexual assault and promote healthy families. If we invest in young people and make a difference in their lives now, we can empower them to make healthy decisions for themselves later.”
Coordinated by Rachel Romberg, Haven House Prevention Coordinator and Tara Schmidt, an AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer working for Haven House, the local program includes two head coaches, six assistant coaches and numerous volunteers. Together, these individuals incorporate the curriculum that uses fun activities to encourage girls to focus on positive self-image, healthy habits and decision-making.
“The program isn’t about time or competition or athleticism,” Schmidt said. “It’s about the girls setting goals and accomplishing them.”
Bi-weekly practices are 90 minutes long, and the girls go through a series of stretches, warm-ups and drills. Social, psychological and physical skills and abilities are developed and reinforced throughout the program. While time, distance and competition are not stressed, the girls are encouraged to push themselves and encourage one another.
“We did one activity where coaches shouted compliments to the girls and they repeated them back,” Schmidt said. “For example, I might shout ‘you’re amazing,’ and they’ll shout back, ‘I’m amazing.’
After running, the girls cool down, stretch and share what they learned. A few of the girls are involved in cross-country running, but most don’t regularly participate in sports. Their reasons for participating vary.
“I like that it’s fun to learn how to be healthy,” Amy, a fifth grader, said.
“I get to make new friends,” said Danielle, 11.
“You run a lot and it’s a really fun activity for girls,” 10-year-old Carleigh said.
Coach Christine Bubar sees the positive effects of the program.
“Some of the girls started out saying their moms made them come, that they didn’t want to be here and don’t like to run,” Bubar said. “After just a few weeks, I watch these girls pushing themselves to do more and more.”
Parents are given a “Grownup Guide” so they can follow along and ask questions. Candice Strickland has two daughters participating in Homer. Her older daughter Amy went through the program in Virginia in 2011.
“With Girls on the Run, my daughters learn good lessons,” Strickland said. “They have a sense of accomplishment in a fun atmosphere without the pressure to win a game or score a goal.”
At the end of the eight-week program, the girls complete a 5k running event. Family and friends are encouraged to be running buddies. In Homer, it will take place in early November.
The program fee is $150 per girl, with a sliding fee scale and scholarships available. Haven House is funding the current program through support from the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, along with monetary donations from both Homer Rotary groups to help with startup costs. West Homer Elementary School donates space for the practices and Homer Thrift has donated running shoes.
After this pilot project, Haven House hopes to expand the program.
“We’d like to offer another session in the spring,” Lawmaster said. “Eventually, we’d like to coordinate a program in Kachemak Selo and other communities, too.”
“It’s more than just exercise, it’s being happy,” said fifth-grader Eleanor.
For more information on Girls on the Run, contact Tara Schmidt, Rachel Romberg or Jessica Lawmaster at Haven House at 235-7712.
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