Nonprofit grows, empowers pre-teen girls

When Erin Hamilton became the executive director of Girls on the Run (GotR) in the spring of 2005, there were only 12 participants in the program. During its first three years, Hamilton was the only employee and operated the organization out of her home.

Six years after the local nonprofit and independent chapter of GotR International was re-established in Greater Cincinnati, participation has grown - more than 1,800 pre-teen girls are involved in its program this year.

GotR uses health and fitness as ways to teach girls of diverse shapes, sizes and economic levels from the third to eighth grade.

More than 50 percent of GotR's current participants need help outside support to cover the cost of the curriculum, running shoes, T-shirts and race registrations.

The 12-week programs are offered in fall and spring every year. They teach pre-teen girls about emotional, social, mental, spiritual and physical development while combining each topic with a physical activity. Teams meet twice each week for one hour after school. Girls learn how to eat healthy, feel good about themselves, improve their body images, combat peer pressure and work cooperatively in teams.

"We're giving each girl the self-esteem to try new things, believe in themselves and the tools to succeed," Hamilton says.

Coaches build relationships with the girls through positive reinforcement and encouragement. Their goals are critical: reduce teenage pregnancies, eating disorders, depression and suicide attempts, as well as lower the number of substance/alcohol abuse problems and confrontations with the juvenile justice system.

The program culminates in a non-competitive 5K race Saturday, May 7, at Paul Brown Stadium, which gives all the girls in the local program a chance to get together and share their skills.

"It's very rewarding to see the girls really come out of their shells," Hamilton says. "We see a change in self-confidence and the way they articulate their thoughts in front of a group. They almost don't recognize how different they are."

Do good:

•    Become a sponsor. More than half the girls need extra support in the form of funding to participate.

•    Become a coach. Coaches are the backbone of the organization.

•    Make a wish come true. Check out the organization's wish list and see what wishes you can grant.

By Jayna Barker

?Follow Jayna on Twitter @jaynabarker.?

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