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Girls on the Run: Healthy, happy, confident

October 30, 2013 - Brandon Twp.- Kelly Thwing places a tube of toothpaste in the center of a circle of girls seated on the floor of a classroom at Brandon Fletcher Intermediate School on Monday after school and invites one of them to attempt to put a dab of toothpaste squeezed out of the tube back in.

The lesson is on gossiping and Thwing is demonstrating that just like it is difficult to put toothpaste back in a tube, it is difficult to take back words once they are out. The lesson comes at a time that may be especially crucial for these girls who are students in fourth through sixth grades and are members of Girls on the Run.

"They are dealing with mature subject matter younger and younger," said Jackie Kippen, council director for Girls on the Run of Greater Detroit. "They are dealing with 'mean girl syndrome' earlier and earlier. Girls on the Run gives them an outlet to make new friends and learn about themselves, that it's OK if you're not wearing cool clothes. You can choose who you want to hang out with, they don't have to be popular. Self-esteem is a huge piece of this program."

Girls on the Run (GOTR) was founded in 1996 in North Carolina. It earned status as a non-profit organization in 2000 and a council was formed in metro Detroit in 2007. Girls on the Run of Greater Detroit is present in 26 of 86 school districts in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties, with programs in about 80 schools. Kippen sent a letter to the Brandon School District earlier in the year to gauge interest in the program, whose mission is "to educate and prepare girls for a lifetime of self-respect and healthy living."

The program found a home at BFIS, with 15 girls signed up on a first-come, first-served basis. Thwing, a Groveland Township mother of two children, Paige, 9, and Caleb, 7, was familiar with the program and volunteered to be a coach, along with Mandy Goodloe, a BFIS fourth grade teacher, and Rebecca Colbert, a sixth grade teacher at BFIS. The trio seem to be a good fit, especially as they are practicing the healthy lifestyles they teach to their new charges. In the last year or so, the three combined have lost more than 180 pounds through new fitness regimens.

But while fitness is one component of Girls on the Run-- participants will complete a 10-week season by taking part in a 5K race-- there are several other pieces to the program that help to make girls healthy, self-confident and successful.

The girls at BFIS spend 75 minutes together twice a week after school, starting their sessions with a healthy snack and then participating in that day's lesson. Topics this season include choosing friends, dealing with emotions, positive self-talk, and how to be assertive.

"Each lesson talks about doing something positive and techniques they can use," said Kippen.

Running is used in the program, she said, to teach positive life skills. The only equipment needed is a good pair of shoes, and as a sport for individuals, girls only need challenge themselves.

"You don't have to worry about what others are doing, it's inexpensive and something they can do at home as well," Kippen said.

Isabelle Ricard, 10, and Jessica McAtamney, 9, are excited to be in the program and run together as neighbors.

"I like (GOTR) because it's about having fun and it's about treating others how you want to be treated," said Jessica. "It's about friendship."

Isabelle is glad she joined because she loves learning about peer pressure and helping others. She has also developed a love of running.

"When I start running, it makes me feel awesome, really good," she said, then adds, "It makes me tired. I run a lot after school. My Mom is going to run with me. I'm really excited."

The girls will participate in the Girls on the Run 5K at Kensington Metro Park on Nov. 17, joined by all the GOTR of Greater Detroit, as well as their family and friends in the non-timed event. About 2,500 runners and walkers are anticipated.

"Some of the kids will run, some will walk, but everyone will make it to the finish line," said Goodloe.

She and her fellow coaches love the interaction between the girls and their growing confidence.

"They support each other and it's fabulous to see," said Colbert.

Early bird registration for the spring season begins Nov. 18. The fee for each girls is $110 and includes 20 lessons (twice weekly sessions), 5K registration (includes T-shirt and medal), as well as a water botle, journal, backpack, and parent guide. Scholarships are available through the YMCA, a partner of GOTR, and payment plans are also offered. For more information on GOTR, or to become a coach, contact Jackie Kippen at 248-370-9622, ext. 228, e-mail or visit

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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