Moving Forward Together

Posted by EFranz in on Thu 10/24/2019 10:25

By Sarah Freymiller, Girls on the Run St. Louis Intern and MSW Student at the Brown School of Social Work

“These feel great!” I was standing in the dressing room at Academy Sports when a door opened and one of the girls on my team came out in her new leggings. She squatted to show me and her friends how stretchy the leggings were, and I realized, as she did multiple squats, that she was celebrating her new-found flexibility with an exercise she had learned during a Girls on the Run practice.

As a Girls on the Run coach at Adams Elementary, I was lucky enough to accompany 50 participants of Girls on the Run on a recent visit to Academy Sports + Outdoors, where they were able to select free running shoes and workout outfits. This trip was made possible by Academy Sports and the Berges Family Foundation, both of which are committed to helping any girl participate in GOTR’s transformational physical activity-based, positive youth development program. We are all working together to help girls grow emotionally, socially and physically.

Why does this matter? The Aspen Institute has found that 69% of girls have left youth sports by the age of 11, and that children from low-income families are half as likely to play sports as kids from upper-income homes. In multiple ways, then, the odds are stacked against girls from certain communities. The Berges Family Foundation is responding to this disheartening reality by supporting our St. Louis Public School teams, and their commitment is helping us counteract the forces that make our girls less likely to take part in sports.

The Berges Family Foundation focuses on youth empowerment, and it was clear to see how excited the girls were to activate their youthful energy in their new clothes and shoes. The Aspen Institute’s study through Project Play revealed that, above all else, kids want sports to be fun, and these girls were definitely having fun. They danced and kicked around the dressing room, and one girl stepped out in a new outfit with a look in her eyes that I had never seen before: pride. From the way she carried herself in that moment, she looked like she could go anywhere and do anything.

If this trip was just about giving girls new clothes, we could have taken down sizes and selected matching outfits for everyone. Academy Sports and the Berges Family Foundation, though, were giving our girls recognition, choice and joy. The recognition that they were important and valued members of our community. The choice to find an outfit that they liked, colors that spoke to them, a fit that helped them feel comfortable and excited to move. The joy of feeling celebrated. It was our way of saying, “Today is about you, and about giving you the opportunity to feel like part of a team.”

One of the Girls on the Run core values is “embrace our differences and find strength in our connectedness.” No two outfits from Academy were exactly alike, and they reflected the different tastes and styles of each girl, but they were all connected by the shared experience of surprise and delight. I was moved by that experience, and I can’t wait to see the girls running, jumping and smiling in their new clothes in the weeks to come.