Q+A: Girls on the Run
Girls on the Run is so much more than a female running club: it’s an empowerment program for young girls, giving them the skills and experiences they need to navigate their world with confidence and joy through the power of movement. The organization is embedded in communities all over the United States. Here in New York City, Girls on the Run has been going since 2006, and now its head office has landed in DUMBO! We met up with the team, Allison, Dorothy and Summer, who told us more about the amazing achievements of this company… and of course, what they love about DUMBO!
How did Girls on the Run get started?
Allison: Girls on the Run started twenty years ago in Charlotte, North Carolina and the concept was: ‘How do we inspire and support girls to believe that they can do anything?’ The founder had spent a lot of her life not feeling that way. She wanted to use running, which is something that she loved, as she felt like movement, walking, running or doing some kind of combination, is something that can be made accessible to a lot of people. We have girls in our program with all kinds of abilities, which is why it’s such a great platform to teach these young girls life skills. Especially that, as a girl and as a person, you can achieve anything you want to.
So, it blossomed from there – a few years later she got a mention in Runners World and was nominated (by her mom, actually!) for awards all over the world. People started to hear this name ‘Girls on the Run’, and wanted it in their community. Then, we started here in New York City in 2006 and by 2012 we’d expanded, with programs in four of the five boroughs. Here we are ten and a half years later!
Can you tell us a bit about the programs you offer?
Allison: Our program is through 3rd-5th grade and 6th-8th grade for girls across New York City. All three of us here have gone and visited, supported and coached at sites. We’re mostly in schools across the city, but we also work with the Department of Homeless Services within New York City and we offer the program in partnership with family homeless shelters too. We often go to where girls are actually living in their temporary housing. We also rent community sites where we work with the community to house the program there, and so girls from any school can participate.
How important are the volunteers to your program?
Allison: They’re the essence of what we do!
Dorothy: Yes, we have over 100 coaches per season, so over 200 per year. Then we have various volunteer committees, such as communication, special events and SoleMates. We also work with our charity Athletes, as well as higher development and our ambassadors…
Summer: We have about 50 ladies who act as the face of Girls on the Run, who expose us and go anywhere that we have a presence, such as fitness events. They help to support us and spread our mission around New York City!
Allison: Those are longer-term commitments, but at our 5K we need close to 200 volunteers to be able to put on the event. Some of those volunteers are people we’ve already mentioned and then our coaches are there too as a separate group. Then we have company groups, sorority groups, groups of friends, families – they all come and support us at the 5K. This is the big event for the Girls on the Run season. They’ve trained together for 10 weeks, as well as focusing on different skills, including social development and learning: ‘How am I a Girl on the Run?’ This is different for every girl, but it’s all about celebrating how she’s unique and all her special gifts. But then we all come together at the 5K and run, or walk, to complete it. So, we have 100-200 people each season who help us put on the 5K but aren’t running. Every girl also has a buddy. So, last season we had around 630 girls on our program and every single one had a buddy – either a parent, guardian, a family member, a friend or a volunteer who ran with her to support her. Every year we’re touching lots of people.
Why is what you do is so important for young girls, and why running?
Allison: Part of it is grounded in this bigger organization started twenty years ago, which is formed on the 5 Cs + 1: Character, Competence, Confidence, Connection and Caring. The +1 is Contribution, as the girls actually design a community service program for the season together as a team, which has taken a few different forms. Certainly, there’s a range of projects that happen. We have 41 teams in the City, so we
have 41 different community projects going on, which was really exciting. So, the 5Cs +1 is a unique program which tries to build girls’ confidence, changing their lives and giving them skills they can use far beyond Girls on the Run. But we use running because it is accessible to many people. Walking too; we’re really comfortable with you going at your own healthy pace, whatever that is, to make it fun and to add in the physical activity component.
How did you end up in DUMBO?
Allison: We’ve really grown as an organization; we’ve gone from all volunteer, to part-time staff, to now four full-time staff, and we needed to grow the space we were in. As we looked around at our options we landed on the WeWork here in DUMBO as something we could grow into for a while.
What do you like about being in DUMBO?
Summer: This building right here is a great community, as it’s great having access to other businesses and start-ups. Last season we actually sent out something on the WeWork network because we needed a pro bono designer, and we found people who designed everything for our ten-year celebration – that was amazing! We didn’t have that ability before, so now that we’re here, we have tons of other resources. Also, just the beauty of DUMBO. It’s unique in its own special way.
Dorothy: This area has really changed a lot over the last couple of years, especially now I feel like it’s a great time to be in DUMBO. Just seeing all the different organizations, which are growing here along with us. It’s cool because we have a relationship with Shack Track and Field, which is part of Shake Shack, who hold group runs down by the water. We also have a connection with Jack Rabbit, who host the runs. So, it’s really cool that we can all come together here in DUMBO. We’ve all ran along the Waterfront – it’s really beautiful.
Allison: It is also nice when local businesses come to DUMBO and showcase themselves. Because we have so many volunteers who support us, at some point they come to visit us, for trainings, small group meetings for our committees and also larger events where we invite our 150 coaches to come in and pick up all the fun things they need from us. We look forward to building partnerships with community businesses, as we’re bringing people into the neighborhood. For example, when we see fitness studios opening up
we always think about opportunities to connect, because we want to give our visitors a fun experience here in DUMBO.
Favorite Spots in DUMBO?
Allison: At the end of the summer we had a celebration with our interns, and we took them to Atrium. It was lovely there.
Dorothy: Juliana’s and Grimaldi’s are staples of the area! Oh, and the Bluestone Lane that just opened.
Summer: I love to go and get lunch from Peas & Pickles. The buffet there is so good – I always get the kale salad with chicken. It’s really a nice little spot.