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Among the many valuable resources for youth in Volusia County is Girls on the Run. The local chapter of this worldwide organization has been active since 2005.

The mission of GOTR International: “We inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running.”

This mission resonates with the many community leaders and families who have participated.  

Molly Barker, a high-school chemistry teacher at the time, founded GOTR in 1993, after years of questioning her self-worth and being defined by others, according to the organization.

Three years later, Barker piloted the lesson-based curriculum.

But it was not until longtime West Volusia resident and Rotarian Karen Weiss met Barker that the initiative emerged in Volusia County, with the help of volunteers Kathy Steen and Melody Hall.

GOTR is not solely a running program, although the program culminates with a 5K run. Nor does it stress competition. In fact, all participants receive awards for developing socially, psychologically and physically.

Members don’t really even have to run, per se.

“They can run, walk or skip as they do the activities provided in the curriculum by the coaches. They have lessons on bullying, gossiping, nutrition, self-esteem, media advertising and gratitude. They do a community-service project. They learn to speak for themselves and others. Coaches do not have to be runners or athletes,” Weiss explained.

With community and family support, the organization is able to offer girls in grades three through eight the opportunity to strive to recognize their power and responsibility to be intentional in their decision-making.

GOTR participants, according to the organization, embrace their differences and find strength in their connectedness; express joy, optimism and gratitude through their words, thoughts and actions; nurture their physical, emotional and spiritual health; lead with an open heart and assume positive intent; and stand up for themselves and others.

GOTR is a school-based, 10-week program open to any girl in third, fourth or fifth grade. Another GOTR program, called Heart and Sole, is open to all girls in sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

There are 16 schools registered this fall, and the program is available at the Boys & Girls Club in DeLand.

“We believe that we are changing the world one girl at a time. I have witnessed the change in a girl once adults pour into their lives by letting them know that they are important,” said Ashley Novak, director of the program.

If you would like to support Girls on the Run as a donor, coach or volunteer, or just want to know more about the program in Volusia County, visit www.gotrvolusia.org, or call Novak at 386-679-1196.

— Cameron, a longtime educator, lives in Orange City. Send email to cameronchronicleslive@gmail.com.

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