Girls on the Run Worcester County is committed to providing our program to every girl, of every identity. The council and programming is led by IDEA-based principles: inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility. That's why for Black History Month, GOTR Worcester County is calling attention to how its confidence-building program is especially powerful for young Black girls as they look to navigate 2023's political and social landscape, and how the program can teach girls to be better advocates for their friends and peers.
A crucial message of the GOTR curriculum is that every girl belongs, and has a unique star power to share with the world. Program Director Katie Esposito notes that this curriculum "helps to celebrate similarities as well as differences amongst the girls."
Adolescence is a tricky, transitional period for young girls, and a time where one discovers their identity. For young Black girls specifically, they are growing up in the midst of what can be a harmful social climate that places negative labels on them of what it means to not only be a girl, but what it means to be Black, as well. GOTR programming is beneficial to their confidence in that it instills in them that every aspect of their identity is worth celebrating. Program Coordinator Sarah Viadero calls attention to the nature of GOTR core values, and how GOTR coaches relay to this messaging to girls that they are enough, just as they are. "Often, Black girls have a label put on them very quickly, and I think the GOTR programming strips that away and allows all backgrounds and experiences to be present. I think the balance of lessons and running is unique in that it provides a physical output for any stressors that the girls may be coming into practice with, and then allows them to speak freely with their peers and coaches," she says.
Support is at the center of ensuring safety, comfort, and confidence amongst Black girls. "Supportive networks like GOTR are crucial to ensure support exists outside of the home where girls can find refuge and connection," adds Executive Director Karen Spencer. "Right now, girls need positive role models and support systems more than ever." Viadero adds that she has heard from various coaches that GOTR girls say they love GOTR because it 'gives them something to be a part of, and they don't have to go home.' "When we hear this it might make us sad at first," Viadero says, "but when we dig deeper it gives us an opportunity to reach girls and be part of something meaningful in their lives."
Esposito cites the curriculum itself as a major tool in building young Black girls up, and how it teaches all GOTR girls how to be better advocates for their friends and peers. "When [the girls] build their confidence, they are then able to partake in meaningful discussions that can change the way people think," she says. "They can start to aid each other in making a difference. At GOTR, we talk about the importance of being a 'stand-by-er', not a bystander."
Spencer suggests that this type of inclusive programming starts with oversight. "As a local organization, we are elevating our ongoing commitment to inclusion, diversity, equity, and access. It is our duty to mirror the lessons we teach our girls. One of our mission advancement markers is to strive to mirror the community in all facets: the girls we serve, the coaches that deliver our curriculum, and board members that represent us in the community. We have made an intentional effort to engage the community stakeholders throughout the Worcester County to better understand the community we wish to serve, and evaluate the needs of the diverse network that makes this community so great."
Esposito agrees. "Whether that means we partner with organizations outside of our own to gain a better understanding of the diversity of our county, or being present at events that may draw diverse coaches to participate and lead our teams of girls," she says, "we want to mirror the communities we serve." Having coaches that look like our girls is crucial; Viadero notes that when girls see themselve in their coaches, there is a certain power that results from girls believing they are "just as impactful as the coach is to them."
The council's current efforts to diversify their reach includes the search for a Community Outreach Intern, who would develop engagement across the Worcester County, connecting and partnering with organizations that share our IDEA initiatives.
Marketing Coordinator Katie Bullied goes on to note the importance of representing every girl on GOTR Worcester County's social media pages and press materials. "It's imperative that our marketing efforts show images of our girls that reflect the diversity of the Worcester County. We want to make sure that EVERY girl knows she is welcome on a Girls on the Run or Heart & Sole team. GOTR should be a safe space for them, and uplift every aspect of their identity. They should see themselves when they look at the girls on the front of a flyer and think, 'hey, that girl looks like me - I can run a 5K, too!"
Bullied continues, "While our program cannot change an entire systemic structure overnight, we can certainly start by supporting the mental and emotional health of Black girls, and encouraging every aspect of their growth along the way."