At YWCA’s upcoming 2015 Annual Empower Luncheon, we’re recognizing the work of guest speaker Molly Barker, founder of Girls on the Run. Molly was kind enough to take the time before the event, and answer a few questions about her work and the importance of empowering young girls both physically and emotionally:
Q: What inspired you to start Girls on the Run in 1996? What had you been doing previously?
Prior to Girls on the Run I held a number of jobs, all working with youth. I was also doing my best to figure out who I was. After years of struggling with my own feelings of self-worth and then witnessing the struggle young girls were going through, I decided to start Girls on the Run.
Q: How does Girls on the Run integrate building both the physical and emotional abilities of young girls?
Each lesson creatively integrates physical activity with games and lessons that focus on any number of tools and skill sets that girls can use to stand up for themselves, and stay true to who they are. The games are fun, engaging and physically active.
Q: What about physical activity, or running in particular helps girls to feel empowered and capable?
I've been a runner since I was 14. While running didn't save me from some of the struggles I encountered in adolescence and young adulthood, it did and still does provide a space in my day where I feel the most empowered physically. Running also provides a space in my day where I can just be unencumbered by stress. I just breathe, listen to my feet on the pavement or path. It's a spiritual sanctuary in a way.
Q: Why the focus on girls in 3rd-8th grade?
3rd to 5th grade girls are moving into abstract thinking. Life becomes a bit more confusing. The notion of absolute "right" and absolute "wrong" gets fuzzy. Girls on the Run wants to reach girls in this critical stage of development, so they have the tools to navigate these "grey" areas of life with a sense of confidence and self-awareness. Our program for 6th through 8th grade further enhances these skills, but puts a great deal of emphasis on having the girls lead the conversations and lessons. They can take on leadership roles and apply what they learn in real life situations.
Q: In what ways does Girls on the Run emphasize relationship building and teamwork? Do you feel those skills are particularly important for school aged girls to learn, in comparison to other demographics?
I think these skills are important for all people! However, developing these skills at an early age makes it easier to hold onto them as we grow up into empowered adults.
Q: What is your proudest moment from Girls on the Run?
It was watching my own teenaged daughter coach the program. She wasn't even born when I started Girls on the Run. The joy in her eyes and the joy in the girls’ eyes was something I will never ever forget.
Q: What are you looking forward to about speaking at YWCA’s Empower Luncheon?
I love speaking and meeting new people. I love the mission of the YWCA. I love hearing the stories of empowered girls and women.There is too much good here to list!
Q: Can you tell me a little about your new organization The Red Boot Coalition?
The Red Boot Coalition addresses the current heightened level of "us versus them" so prevalent in our country today. The program, led by trained guides, creates places where people listen with compassion and share with vulnerability, and by doing so create a new conversation where solutions are found and people feel safe, connected and loved.
Thanks again to Molly for answering our questions with such insight and enthusiasm. If you’re interested in hearing Molly speak or learning more about YWCA’s Empower Luncheon on September 16th, click here. Registration closes September 8th.