Inspire: Girls on the Run combines physical activity with confidence-building lessons | The Sentinel: News

Girls from the Cumberland Valley School District show off their finish line signs at a recent Girls on the Run Capital Area event.


Knowing that the message was an aftermath of Girls on the Run made the story a treasured memory for Capital Region Council Executive Director Gillian Byerly.

She had heard that the policeman had kept the care package note as a pick-me-up to read over and over again until he retired.

Each team of girls enrolled in the after-school program was required to complete the 10-week course with a community impact project of their own creation.

“They decide what to focus on and what they can accomplish,” Byerly said. “They work together…collaborate…communicate…compromise. These are skills they practice with.

The aim each time is to inspire each child to have confidence in their ability to fulfill their potential and to overcome pitfalls such as a negative self-image.

As its name suggests, the program uses running and other physical activities to teach social and emotional skills that help girls in grades 3-8 learn to resist peer pressure, develop empathy, showing kindness, and standing up for yourself and others.

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“A girl doesn’t have to be athletic or a runner to participate,” Byerly said. “We have adaptations in our program so that girls with disabilities can participate.”

A national non-profit organization, Girls on the Run was founded in 1996 and has been active in Cumberland County since the fall of 2011. Headquartered in Lemoyne, the Capital Region Council administers the program in 17 counties in central Pennsylvania.

What started as two teams of 22 girls in total in Cumberland and Dauphin counties grew into a regional program that had up to 2,000 participating girls in the year before the pandemic.

“We’re in a rebuilding phase,” Byerly said. “This fall we have about 50 participants — it’s probably 600 to 650 girls. We expect these numbers to continue to grow.

The program relies on volunteer coaches to serve as mentors to the girls enrolled in the program. The men and women stepped up to give 90 minutes, two days a week, to guide each team of girls through the scripted program.

“We need people who will be positive and inspiring role models,” Byerly said. “They don’t have to be runners. They don’t need to be athletic. We really want coaches who reflect the full diversity of the girls we serve. They all bring such an important perspective.

Anyone interested in volunteering for Girls on the Run Capital Area can use the contact information listed below. They would be subject to criminal background checks and other security clearances.

Gillian Byerly

Gillian Byerly

Q&A with the Girls in the Race Capital Region

  • Goal: To provide a program that connects mind and body through research-based lessons and accessible physical activities that instill confidence and nurture care and compassion in every girl.
  • Address: 525 N. 12th St., Suite 205, Lemoyne, PA
  • Website:
  • Contact: office phone number – 717-763-4869, office email – [email protected]
  • How old is the organization: active since 2011

What role does your organization play in the community?

Girls on the Run has a big impact. All our teams carry out a project where they discover their community. They learn that they can bring a positive attitude and have a positive impact in their community. They put together [care] first responder packages. They did drives for animal shelters. They provided backpacks for the foster children. They wrote recovery cards for people living in nursing homes or children recovering in local hospitals.

What is the toughest challenge your organization faces?

The biggest challenge right now is recruiting volunteers. Before COVID, our program was school-based. Many schools are not prepared to offer after-school programs. They are not ready to bring external volunteers into the school. Our main source of volunteers was teachers and teachers are overwhelmed right now, so we are looking for community volunteers.

Is there anything you would like the public to know about what you do?

It’s really important for them to know that Girls on the Run is for all girls. We have registration fees, but we don’t want income or ability to pay to become a barrier. We ask families to contribute what they can. About half of the families we serve each year receive scholarships.

What is the achievement you are most proud of so far?

What makes us proud is when we receive emails from teachers, families [and] grandparents telling us about the impact this program has had on their daughter and on their whole family. How it changed them. How it opened the door to a different relationship. We get these emails a lot and hide them. It is important to know that the program does what we promise to do and that it has an impact on girls.

Another thing that makes us proud is when we have a daughter who has finished training and is now back as a coach and junior coach. Let the program come full circle. This girl can volunteer her time to be that role model she has benefited from.

In your opinion, what are the keys to having an impact on young people?

We must listen to them. We need to hear what is important to them. We have to be able to answer that. We must be able to support them.

What goals do you have for the coming year?

We want to keep rebuilding. We want to make sure we have enough volunteers to deliver the program to more and more sites. We want to make sure we have enough funds to provide the level of financial assistance we provide. Not only do we want to survive. We want to prosper because if we prosper, our daughters prosper too.

Email Joseph Cress at [email protected]

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