catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 2, Num 14 :: 2003.07.04 — 2003.07.17


The toughest years

Ashley was an attractive fifth grade girl, poised on the edge of puberty. Designer jeans gave her status and guaranteed her place in the popular crowd. Her father was a lawyer in a comfortable office in town and mom was involved in all the right clubs. Their lake house was the place to be. Ashley seems to have it all.

Annie is also in fifth grade. She lives with her drunk mother and mom?s live-in boyfriend on the wrong side of town. She has four siblings with three different fathers between them. Money is tight and homelessness is always a possibility.

Which girl is a girl at risk? Most people would respond that Annie is at terrible risk. They would be right. It is difficult for a girl to develop a healthy self-esteem and good habits when there is not an example in the home. But it could be said that Ashley is also a girl at risk. Many young girls like Ashley have no sense of self that is unrelated to the social standing of their parents or the designer labels. So how do we address this ever-growing area of concern?

Girls on the Run International seeks to make a difference in the attitudes and behaviors of our pre-adolescent/adolescent girls. Its mission statement is ?to prepare girls for a lifetime of self-respect and healthy living.? River Country Girls on the Run is the St. Joseph County, Michigan affiliate council to Girls on the Run International. We completed the first year of our program in May 2003. Over 200 girls in St. Joseph County participated. Girls on the Run is geared toward third through fifth graders with a similar curriculum called Girls on Track geared for sixth through eighth graders. It is an experiential learning program that combines training for a 5 km (3.1 mile) run with life-changing, self-esteem enhancing warm-ups and workouts. The program encourages emotional, social, mental, physical and spiritual development. Life-skills taught include healthy eating and activity, getting along within a group, asserting one?s self in a healthy manner, stopping a gossip chain, and combatting the negative and unattainable images put forth by the media.

Most grown women can relate to self-esteem issues. Many still struggle with the question, ?Am I pretty enough or good enough?? Personally, I lived through adolescence fraught with circumstances that led to low self-esteem and self-destructive behaviors. As a woman who has come to know who she is in Christ, I can now celebrate the gifts that God has given me. Many times I can even smile at the areas in which I find myself deficient. A confidence in my identity in Christ now exists. I feel God can use Girls on the Run to accomplish this in the girls we serve. Coordinating River Country Girls on the Run allows me to reach out and make a difference in the lives of young girls not unlike me. The purpose of Girls on the Run is not to evangelize, but there is an opportunity to display Christ?s love to girls who greatly need to feel acceptance. Like many of you, I will be forever grateful for those who displayed God?s love in practical ways in my life especially during my vulnerable adolescent years.

Karen Newhouse is the Project Director for Three Rivers Family Connection and Council Director for River Country Girls on the Run. She has three years experience with administration of a $165,000 Title V Juvenile Justice Grant involving 7 different subcontracting agencies and all required reporting. Previously she worked as Service Coordinator for a large local church, working in the business, community outreach and creative arts areas of ministry. Community involvement has always been a priority. September 2002 launched the first season of River Country Girls on the Run? in the Three Rivers School District. Spring of 2003 season added three more county school districts to the program. Growth is expected to continue as parents recognize the vulnerable stage their daughters face.

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