MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — For these young runners, the finish line is years away.
Girls on the Run is about the journey getting there.
“It is not competitive, it’s not timed. It’s not about being first,” said Megan Wolfe, executive director of Girls on the Run of Snohomish County. “It’s about moving your body and being healthy.”
The after-school program is for third through eighth graders.
Marlen Mercado-Ayala, 12, participated for three years.
“My mom put me in it so I could exercise more,” Marlen said. “At first I didn’t want to go. I thought it was going to be strictly running and running.”
It’s way more than running.
“I really started to like it. I made so many more friends,” she said. “They teach you about leadership and empathy. If you’re having a bad day they’ll ask you what’s wrong and try to do anything to make it better.”
Over 10 weeks, teams meet twice a week for 90 minutes.
The lessons are themed through relay and tag. “Like sharks and minnows,” Marlen said.
They get a lesson on a specific topic, such as friendship, feelings and how to handle peer pressure, gossiping and bullying.
“The girls are learning tools to take into their lives, to be in healthy friendships, what they want to be when they grow up and to make choices for themselves,” Wolfe said.
“The whole time they are practicing running, too.”
By teaching the social and emotional learning through active games, “The lessons tend to stick really well,” Wolfe said. “It combines sports and social-emotional learning into one. It is designed to show girls they can be active and sporty without being on a sports team. They don’t have to be in a competitive sport to do active, healthy things.”
The girls build up to a 5K at the end of the season.
“When I was doing the 5K they were cheering us,” Marlen said. “They waited for everyone at the finish line and congratulated you.”
Each team does a community service project.
“The first year I did it we picked up trash around the school,” Marlen said. “The second year we made goodie bags to give to the homeless. The last one, we did a lemonade stand and sold cookies to make money for a dog shelter.”
The program is rooted in the international Girls on the Run program. It started in Snohomish County in 2015 with four teams and 40 girls in the Edmonds School District. By spring 2019, the program had grown to 42 locations with a total of 708 girls participating.
In the 2020 season, 900 girls in over 60 teams are expected to participate, Wolfe said.
A teacher or counselor or office staff member is the site person. Teams are led by volunteers, who are trained and must pass background checks.
Wolfe launched the nonprofit in 2015. She became familiar with Girls on the Run Puget Sound while she was living in Seattle. When she moved to Snohomish County in 2014, she found that there wasn’t a similar program here.
She contacted the international organization and raised more than $7,500 for seed money for the nonprofit. She helped recruit and create a nine-member board. Wolfe was a finalist in 2017 and 2018 for the Emerging Leaders award, which is presented annually by The Herald Business Journal. She has two sons, 5 and 8.
Schools sign up until the end of the year. Registration for girls is in January.
The fee is $185, with sliding scale that can reduce it to $20.
“Whoever needs that financial aid, we’re going to have it. We make sure we never have to turn a girl away,” Wolfe said.
The girls on scholarship get a new pair of running shoes, thanks in part to corporate sponsors.
“We buy them to get the sizes we can’t get elsewhere,” she said. “I go shoe shopping a lot in March.”
Each girl sets individual running goals.
Some girls join because they love running.
“We have run in our name and they get excited about it. We have girls who really don’t like running and they tend to walk a lot, and that’s fine,” Wolfe said
“Our message is ‘Find your happy pace.’”
How to help
The mission of Girls on the Run is to inspire girls of all athletic abilities using a fun, experience-based curriculum that creatively integrates running. The program is accessible to girls from all socioeconomic backgrounds, regardless of their ability to pay. Girls on full scholarship also receive new running shoes. Donations help buy shoes and give more girls the opportunity to be a part of the program. New running shoes are also accepted.
Volunteer coaches are needed at sites to help run the program. Volunteers get training and undergo background checks.
Girls on the Run of Snohomish County is at 6505 218th St. SW, #14, Mountlake Terrace, WA 98043. Call 206-931-7551, email Megan.firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.girlsontherunsnoco.org for more information.