Experts have long championed mentoring as one of the most important volunteer roles a person can assume. Girls on the Run of Middle Tennessee, the local outpost of a community-based nonprofit organization, does not take mentorship lightly. Their premise is simple: over a 10-week span, in after-school sessions at participating elementary and middle school campuses, volunteer coaches teach participating girls how to deal with daily challenges like bullying, peer pressure, self-esteem and more.
In addition to the volunteer coaches, GOTR also nurtures strong relationships with other organizations and enthusiasts within Nashville’s vibrant running community. These partnerships include Nashville Striders, the Nashville chapter of Black Girls Run as well as the Nashville-area and Murfreesboro-area Fleet Feet groups.
“Each participating site offers spring and fall classes delivered twice weekly by trained volunteer coaches,” explained Tiffany Patton, the executive director of Girls on the Run of Middle Tennessee. “The seasons culminate in a 5k complete with a volunteer Running Buddy assigned to each young runner to help with pacing, mentoring, and overall encouragement during the race.”
It only takes minutes after speaking with Patton to understand her passion for youth and mentoring—a passion that has now manifested into phenomenal results and visible impact in the Middle Tennessee region. Once on a path to pursuing a law degree to help right inequities in the justice system, Patton became inspired to approach social justice in a different way. A native of Queens, N.Y., Tiffany moved to Nashville to attend Vanderbilt University in 1998.
Soon after graduating from Vanderbilt University, she began to pursue a career in the nonprofit sector focusing primarily on youth. Now, after only two years at the helm, Patton has combined that passion and her experience to grow Girls on the Run of Middle Tennessee’s programs beyond the confines of Nashville into adjacent Rutherford, Sumner, Montgomery and Williamson counties. The Middle Tennessee council has also seen an impressive 24 percent increase in the number of girls it serves with 2015 seeing its largest number served since the organization’s inception in 2007.
Patton has a few ideas about why success has arrived so swiftly for in this region: “GOTR works because, for one, it focuses on girls. Further, running is not the main focus. It is simply a tool by which the course curriculum is taught.”
“Girls On The Run leaders and coaches use running as an activity to inspire and motivate girls to practice lifelong health and fitness,” she continued. “Completing the 5K at the close of each season gives the girls a tangible sense of achievement as well as a framework for setting and achieving life goals.”
It is these intangible benefits that crystallize within students’ minds long after they matriculate out of the program.
“(Girls On The Run) showed me I was stronger than I thought I was!” exclaimed Abigail, a high school-aged alumna of the program. “I was much more confident and I loved myself for who I am and loved others for what they are!”
As for running and lifelong health, the benefits of physical activity cannot be ignored. Patton clarified, “Many people who have been involved in sports are quick to tell you the benefits are much more than physical. Usually, those benefits are a byproduct. In the case of Girls on the Run, those benefits are intentional.”
“This program internationally focuses on all aspects of a girl’s development, planting the seed for them to grow into well-rounded, confident women,” she continued. “We are the only program that exists for girls that blends physical activity and character development in that way.”
Founded in Charlotte, N.C., in 1996, Girls on the Run has grown into an international organization with 225 councils in 49 states and Canada. With the help of more than 98,000 volunteers, Girls on the Run served over 179,000 girls in 2015.
Girls On The Run aims to inspire girls to be joyful healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running. Through a 24-lesson curriculum, its participants (school-aged girls in grades 3–8) train for a 5K (3.1 miles) running event while they also learn life skills that organizers hope will inspire them to become independent thinkers, enhance their problem-solving skills, and make healthy decisions.
Like any non-profit, GOTR depends on a dedicated team of volunteers to sustain its programming.
Patton and her team have an exciting year planned, including participating in last week’s The Big Payback, a 24-hour fundraising drive sponsored annually by The Community Foundation.
Last Saturday, GOTR and its participants laced up for their Spring 5K. With the fall season kicking back into gear in September, there are more exciting happenings in store. The Sneaker Soiree, a fundraiser in October, hosted by their YP group The Starting Line promises to be an excellent opportunity to support GOTR’s mission of continuing to enhance the lives of girls across Middle Tennessee.
There are many ways to become involved in GOTR’s mission of encouraging self-esteem and character growth through running. You can become a site leader, coach, Running Buddy, or donate. Please check the links below for more information on how to become involved.