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10 Years and Counting

Girls on the Run celebrates their 10 year anniversary, still celebrating young girls and riding the tide of change.

The expectations that can be placed on young women in American society are uniquely multifaceted, pushing women to achieve perfection to an unattainable degree. From an alarmingly early age, young girls are inundated with conflicting messages of their worth from mass media, educational systems, and even from members of their local communities.

Nonprofit organizations like Girls on the Run of Central Maryland are providing young women the opportunity to ride this wave of female empowerment.  Girls on the Run is striving to keep female empowerment from becoming a trend, ensure its place as the status quo.  Originally developed in North Carolina in 1996, Girls on the Run has grown to a nationally ranked nonprofit in the last two decades, with over 200 councils across North America. Although the program includes running practice after school, participants are also provided with a research-based curriculum that focuses on mental health, community building, and conflict resolution. Girls from all walks of life are invited to participate in the program, regardless of physical ability, gender expression, or financial status.

Executive Director of Girls on the Run of Central Maryland, Jessamine Duvall, began her involvement with Girls on the Run in a deeply personal way. After moving to Maryland from Georgia in the early 2000s, Duvall was introduced to Girls on the Run after her daughter participated in the program as a fourth-grader. After witnessing her daughter’s growth and desire to participate in the upcoming season, Duvall realized she had found something special. According to the GOTR National Headquarters, Girls on the Run is the “only national physical activity-based positive youth development program for girls with evidence of program impact from a rigorous external evaluation study.” With training lasting for ten weeks until a celebratory non-competitive 5K race at the end of each season, the program focuses on girls from Grades 3-5, as well as offering the Heart to Sole program for girls in Grades 6-8.

Additionally, high school girls are encouraged to become Junior Coaches and assist their younger counterparts in completing the program. “One of the most beautiful parts of the program is watching how the girls blossom.” Duvall shared. “I always tell people, watching the first girl cross the finish line is incredible, but watching the last girl cross the finish line will make you cry. When you see how motivated these girls are, even if they don’t like to run or be competitive, it’s an inspiring thing to watch them still persevering and pushing themselves to finish the course and come out of their comfort zones.” Duvall became the Executive Director for the Girls on the Run program in Central Maryland in 2016 and has been serving the community ever since. Although her daughter has aged out of the program, Duvall is committed to continuing its legacy in the community. That commitment is inspired by women like Billie Jean King, Lynda Carter, and Christine Blasey Ford for their outspokenness and strength. “We are living in an unprecedented time of women stepping forward -- from the voices calling out for accountability in the #MeToo Movement to entertainers releasing positive messages of self-expression and individuality. We want to reach the girls in our community at an early age and demonstrate for them that they can take up space and speak out. We want to shape these young women into becoming forces for good who will have a positive impact on their community and the world at large,” said Duvall.

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