Empowering The Girls of The Grand Strand
by Melissa LaScaleia
Girls On The Run is a national, 501(c)(3) nonprofit, after-school program dedicated to the empowerment of elementary and middle school girls in the Grand Strand area. Girls are taught fitness in a creative way that inspires them to be the best versions of themselves, is non-competitive, and fun. They also learn tools to help them navigate social interactions with their peers.
Kerri Oxendine and Paige Cribb are volunteer coaches for Girls on the Run at St. James Elementary School in Murrells Inlet and share with the Insider more about what the program does for these youngsters, as well as what it means to them personally.
“I have a heart for young girls, and community is a big deal to me,” Coach Kerri says. “When I found out about this program, I called and asked how I could be involved.
“This has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. Watching these girls grow over a ten-week period is one of the most exciting things I’ve ever seen.”
The program uses running to motivate the girls to realize that they can set and achieve goals, and instills confidence through accomplishment. At the end of the season, the girls are physically prepared to complete a celebratory 5k running event which they do with their families and other neighboring Girls On the Run teams.
“They can run, walk, dance or skip it, but they keep going, and they get it done,” Coach Kerri says. “It’s a fantastic high-energy event. A lot of the girls paint their face and color their hair.
“When they complete the run, it’s a defining moment for them because it turns a theory into a tangible. What seemed impossible at the beginning is now possible.”
“The other aspect of the program, the really cool part,” says Coach Paige, “is that we’re teaching the girls life lessons with physical activity woven in, and through games that we play, we impart skills. That’s the strong point of our program.
“We address the challenges that face them at that age, and teach them techniques to help them better handle situations like bullying, peer pressure, gossiping, clicks and jealousy. How to confront a situation in which you have a good friend and make a new one and the old one is jealous. We teach them how to embrace each other’s differences rather than issuing put-downs.”
Coach Paige, a golf professional at Coastal Carolina University, became involved in the program when her niece, a third-grader wanted to repeat the program. There were no coaches available, so Paige volunteered.
“It is a ton of fun,” she says. “I get as much out of it as the girls do.”
The program teaches the girls to be intentional in their choices, and reflective about the choices they make to learn about themselves. They cover positive self-talk, and how to eliminate negative self-talk.
“They try to instill gratitude as well as healthy habits. They give lessons on nutrition and the importance of making healthy food choices, as well as getting adequate sleep and exercise, and getting away from too much screen time.
“We teach compassion, caring, and especially confidence,” Coach Paige says. “Because already at that age they think about not being pretty. Already at this age they are afraid of taking action because they’re afraid to make mistakes.
“We teach them to take responsibility for their actions and help them see what they can they learn from a situation and do differently next time, rather than seeking perfection.
“We teach them realism, that every day won’t be their best, but as with anything in life, it’s about moving forward. It’s not that different from living life as an adult with these 3rd and 4th grade girls.”
“And there are a lot of teaching moments that aren’t in the curriculum,” Coach Kerri adds.
Another key element of the program is the community impact project. The girls as a team choose a group of people or a cause that is important to them, and then come up with a way to serve those people or cause to make a positive impact. The purpose is to give them a sense of empowerment— to choose, plan and execute the project.
In the past, the girls voted to take better care of nature. They collected pine cones, which they covered in peanut butter and rolled in bird seed to hang on the trees to help feed the birds— their way of compensating for natural habitat destruction.
Another time, one of the program participants had cancer, which inspired the girls to be more aware of other children suffering from the same disease. The situation gave them the idea to write letters of comfort and cheer to children at MUSC in Charleston.
“We are trying to build more awareness of this program,” Coach Kerri says. “We just want people to be aware that this is here, this is out here.”
Girls on the Run
For more info, contact executive director Danelle Greer