Sweet Briar College and Girls on the Run of Greater Lynchburg have announced a partnership aimed squarely at achieving their shared goals: educating and empowering young women. The women’s college will be a sponsor and will host the next central Virginia-area Girls on the Run 5K race on Nov. 19 on its 3,250-acre campus in Amherst County.
Girls on the Run is an international program for 8- to 13-year-old girls that encourages a “lifetime of self-esteem and healthy living” through a structured running and life skills curriculum. The twice-yearly New Balance Girls on the Run Celebration 5K Run/Walk events are the culmination of each 12-week season.
The partnership is an ideal fit. The organization needs a suitable place to hold its races and is always seeking volunteers 21 and older to coach its teams. College students and recent graduates make some of the best coaches, often connecting easily with the girls, says Greater Lynchburg Council director Mary Hansen.
For the College, it opens opportunities to engage Sweet Briar students in leadership, mentoring and volunteer roles, while supporting an effective and kindred organization. The race also will bring hundreds of girls to campus for a memorable experience.
“We’ve known for a while we were going to be maxing out our venue,” said Hansen, one of four mothers who established the council in 2005. Since then it has grown from two teams at Holy Cross Regional School to 45 teams at 36 sites in five counties and the cities of Lynchburg and Charlottesville.
“Our board was very excited when they saw the campus and what Sweet Briar is about,” Hansen said. “We’re both working toward the education of young women. It just seemed like a natural relationship.”
Sweet Briar president Jo Ellen Parker agrees, and notes it is a way to help impact women even earlier in life. “Sweet Briar, like Girls on the Run, is all about empowering women and educating them for success and well-being. We’re delighted to partner for the benefit of girls in our region,” she said.
The campus is located between Lynchburg and Charlottesville and provides an idyllic and safe environment for the 3.1-mile course. There’s also plenty of room to accommodate more than 500 anticipated runners and their families.
Sweet Briar joins other Girls on the Run supporters, including New Balance, Secret Deodorant, the Centra Foundation, Areva, Riverside Runners, Market at Main, and the sponsors who helped launch the group in Central Virginia, Genworth Financial and Holy Cross Regional School. Hansen and her running companions brought Girls on the Run to the region after investigating the Charlotte, N.C.-based national program, and attending training to learn how to start a council.
“We were able to get the full picture along with the nuts and bolts of the program and just fell in love with it,” Hansen said. “When we witnessed it working we were very excited and knew the program had to be shared throughout the area.”
The program charges fees on a sliding scale and scholarships are available, but Girls on the Run is intended for every girl, regardless of socioeconomic and family background. It’s a prevention program that’s designed to influence girls’ future decision-making at a pivotal time in their development as human beings. It provides a path to healthy physical, mental and spiritual well-being by fostering achievement and self-empowerment.
For some girls lack of confidence isn’t the problem. Hansen recalls one “sassy” youngster she coached — a natural leader, but one who sometimes caused trouble. “She needed to focus that energy in a different way,” she said.
Catching sight of her cheering coach at the end of the 5K, the girl leapt across the finish line and into Hansen’s arms with a full-body hug. “I saw the spunky girl come back,” Hansen said. “She tossed her head as she headed to the water table proclaiming, ‘I just made myself so proud.’ We want this program to be available to any girl so they too can say ‘I make myself proud.’ ”
Sweet Briar is a place where such revelations are expected to occur, says President Parker. “This is a campus where women discover their strengths and achieve more than they imagined they could,” she said. “Girls on the Run at Sweet Briar will be an opportunity for younger women to experience the exhilaration of striving for a challenging goal.”