More to ‘Girls’ than just runningPublished 8:30pm Thursday, May 23, 2013
BERRIEN SPRINGS — Molly Barker could have been mistaken for a rock star.
The founder of Girls on the Run spent at least an hour autographing t-shirts and giving hugs to the hundreds of girls participating in the Girls on the Run 5K event at the Berrien County Youth Fairgrounds Thursday evening.
Barker is on a tour of sorts, traveling from her home in North Carolina to various Girls on the Run events across the country. She was in Grand Rapids last weekend.
Nearly 2,000 people came to Thursday’s event, and all of them wanted to see Barker.
“It is a little surreal,” said Barker. “The impact of it doesn’t really hit me until I get back to my hotel and I sometimes just break down in tears because it is just overwhelming. It’s almost like there are no words to describe it.”
Barker created Girls on the Run in 1996. It began with just 13 girls and has since grown to more than 130,000 in over 200 cities in North America.
Barker used lessons from her own life and bad choices to develop a program that used running — the key to her own awakening — to help girls become strong and confident people.
“Deep down in my heart I thought we had tapped into one of the world’s greatest needs, which is just an opportunity for girls to be themselves,” Barker said.
Thursday’s event featured around 700 grade-school girls from Berrien County schools, including Niles, Brandywine and Buchanan.
Jessica Bellaire, a fifth-grader at Howard Elementary in Niles, was participating in her third Girls on the Run 5K.
“It’s fun to run and I get to meet a lot of new friends,” Bellaire said.
Abi Fruk, another Howard student, is in her second year of Girls on the Run.
“I like that I get to run and I get to talk a lot without getting in trouble,” Fruk said.
Girls on the Run is a 10-week program where teams of up to 15 girls meet twice a week with their volunteer coaches. In addition to training for the end-of-the-season 5K run, girls learn about self-esteem and making healthy choices and complete a community project.
“It definitely helps the girls,” said Amy VanDalsen, Girls on the Run liaison at Howard. “They learn to have a positive body image and that girls come in all shapes and sizes. They meet people they probably would not have — all our girls have become really good friends now.”
Girls on the Run is made possible only through the work of many volunteers. To learn more, or to volunteer, contact the United Way of Southwest Michigan at (269) 982-1700.
For more photos, check out our gallery on the Niles Daily Star Facebook page.