Girls on the Run to impact community, promote confidence

Hannah Myers, Contributing Writer

Families laughing, music playing, colored hairspray and excitement will be in the air as more than 150 girls and 26 boys from 12 teams and six counties are set to run the Girls on the Run 5K Saturday at the Mattoon YMCA.

Girls on the Run is a 10-week after school program for girls in third through fifth grade. The program emphasizes health, fitness, positive body image and more.   

Sarah Dowell, Girls on the Run Council Director, said this program shows everyone can make a difference.

“This is not a weight loss program,” Dowell said. “It’s not even a running program.  It is a physical activity-based positive youth development program.”

Girls in the program meet twice a week for 90 minutes.  In that time, girls will discuss the topic of the day, which can include choosing friends, standing up to others, joy, support and empathy.  They stretch, play games, role play and have those conversations.

Boys also have a program called STRIDE.  STRIDE participants meet twice a week for 75 minutes and are taught lessons on subjects such as bullying and maintaining healthy lifestyles as well.

The following week after the 5K, all the runners participate in a Community Impact Project. Previous projects have included bake sales, trash pick-up, fundraisers and food drives.

“The celebratory 5K doesn’t signify the end of program,” Dowell said. “These runners really want to make an impact in their communities.”

Beth Gillespie, director of Civic Engagement and Volunteering, said roughly 500 to 600 Eastern students and community members are expected to help cheer on the runners as well as help direct traffic.

“Anyone who can walk, run or skip is encouraged to participate,” Gillespie said. “Thanks to the EIU community, people are cheered on from the very beginning to the very end.  So even those who have never participated will have all the encouragement they need.”

Approximately 400 students have signed up to volunteer already but they always welcome more people, Gillespie said.

“These volunteers really speak a message and that’s to say, ‘we are here and we support you, and want to see you be successful,’” Gillespie said. “This is a critical message to give to the kids in our community at large.”

During the race, people can expect to see a hair coloring station, DJ, photo booth, Billy the Panther and bounce houses.  A “Warrior Girl” award will be presented along with a memorial balloon release.  All participants will receive a finishers’ medal.

The 5K is open to the public. Registration will begin at 8:30 a.m. Saturday at the Mattoon YMCA. There is a $25 dollar registration fee that gets put directly back into the program.

Those interested in volunteering can contact Gillespie at [email protected].

Hannah Myers can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].