By Tyrese Blue
A unique program for school-age girls founded 24 years ago on the other side of the country has made it to Riverside.
Girls on the Run is an after school program for third to eighth grade girls. It aims to teach girls to be active, kind and about consent. It also combines both physical activity and life-skills education.
Before the program made its way to Riverside in 2018, it’s locations in California were primarily in Orange and Los Angeles counties. It was not until Stephanie Witkowski, executive director of the organization, believed there was a need to expand the program and chose Riverside as a new location.
There are plans for expansion to different cities throughout Riverside County, including Temecula, Menifee and others.
Building self-esteem in the girls is at the top of the program’s list of priorities.
The following interview with Erin Munro, a staff member of the Riverside program, provides insight on the functions and purpose of Girls on the Run.
Q: What makes your program different from other programs ?
A: It accompasses both emotional and phyiscal aspects. So it really incorporates the mind, body and soul. It’s just, you know, a learning program. It’s not strictly just a sports program. We really do it all. We also focus on girls. It’s a delicate age in that age range, so I think that makes our program unique in itself.
Q: Why is the program geared toward girls specifically?
A: It’s geared towards girls to bring up topics in a safe environment and build their self-esteem, since girls can be mean to one and other.
Q: What’s the purpose and message you want girls to learn from being in the program?
A: Thats a tough one. Personally, I would want girls to form the program with self esteem, confidence and learn how to be kind to one another, and how to stay physically active. There’s a lot you can learn from the program.
Q: What precautions are you taking to ensure the health and safety of both the staff and children during the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: For safety, our program is also available virtually if someone wanted that or felt more comfortable with that. We also provide masks and hand sanitizer, and plenty of water. We also make sure the girls are in good health when they arrive at practice. All of our activities are outside and we’re also six feet apart. So we adapted quite well.
Q: What is the cost of the program?
A: The cost per girl is $175. That includes two lessons and we meet twice a week. It also provides a t-shirt and medal.
Q: What is “the council” and how do you start one in your city and residential area?
A: The council is a chapter. How you start one would be to go to the national organization itself and there would just have to be funding available and to provide oversight mainly.
Q: How does one start a Girls on the Run team?
A: It’s really easy. Before our summer or fall season, go online and check the website and do it directly there. Literally any school, any organization or any parent or coach might start their own team.
Q: How inclusive is the program? Does it include transgender girls? Girls who have mental or physical disabilities?
A: We include everyone. We have yet to have a transgender person that wants to register. I don’t think there would be an issue because no girl is turned away. Physical, developmental, intellectual disabilities or delays — no one is turned away. We include everyone.
The program is always in search of help and especially encourages college students to volunteer. To apply, visit the volunteer section at gotrriverside.org.
Those looking to start their own Girls on the Run team should apply ahead of time, as teams follow a season schedule. Applications for the summer season are open.