Girls on the Run empowers youth

Cassie Buchman , City Editor

Participants will skip, run and walk as volunteers cheer them on at the Girls on the Run 5K at 9 a.m. Saturday starting at O’Brien Field.

The race is non-competitive; times will not be recorded, and results will not be posted.

Girls on the Run is a non-profit after school program for girls in third through eighth grades.

Beth Gillespie, the council director of Girls on the Run East Central Illinois, said it is an organization that works to empower girls.

The girls meet two times a week to practice running.

“They learn how to stand up to bullies, how to deal with the media and body image,” Gillespie said.

The program focuses on the girls’ self-esteem, confidence and physical and emotional health.

“I want them to know they can reach their goals,” Gillespie said. “I want them to think, ‘If I can do this, I can do anything.’”

Another program exists for boys called Stride, who will also be present at the 5K. Stride is also a 10-week program that focuses on character development and self-esteem among boys.

“We make the topics geared more toward boys,” Gillespie said.

Gillespie said a girl has told her Girls on the Run has taught her to be the boss of her own brain.

“It helps girls learn about themselves, that they are in charge of their own thoughts,” Gillespie said.

Girls on the Run has two seasons a year, in the spring and fall.

This spring, the organization has 220 girls already registered and 112 volunteer coaches.

“We expect with the girls, boys, coaches and volunteers for there to be 800 participants,” Gillespie said.

Many of the volunteers cheering girls toward the finish line are Eastern students from a variety of organizations.

“We’re really grateful for all of EIU’s help in making this a great experience,” Gillespie said.

These organizations include Alpha Sigma Alpha, Alpha Gamma Delta, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Sigma Sigma Sigma, Delta Zeta, National Residence Hall Honorary, the Sports Management Club, Pride, and Big Brothers and Big Sisters.

“Some might support with their student group, and because they can see what their doing is making a difference,” Gillespie said.

Other volunteers that will be cheering on the participants will be the campus police, the city of Charleston and the Charleston Police Department.

Gillespie said even though they might not think their making a difference, what they do is important, especially since 600 volunteers will be there getting up early to cheer the girls on.

“It only takes one person to say, ‘I know you can do it, I believe in you,’ to make them feel like they are important, like their worthwhile,” she said. “It shows there are people who support their progress, and know what their doing is important.”

The race will not be the only thing happening on Saturday. A family celebration with a hair station, face painting and bounce house will also happen during the race.

“It is something for the entire family to come and participate in,” Gillespie said. “It gives older and younger siblings something to do while their brother or sister is getting back to the finish line.”

The non-competitive race is open to everyone, not just participants of Girls on the Run and Stride.

Registration is still open and people can register by visiting the Mattoon Area Family YMCA or registering online.

Cassie Buchman can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].