For some girls, they may face social pressures and conflicting messages about how they should act and who they should be.
However, a national nonprofit that started in Charlotte is a game changer for some young girls. Girls on the Run believes that every girl is inherently full of power and potential.
“I've seen an incredible upswing in the amount of confidence girls have to truly be themselves and speak up for themselves and others in challenging situations,” said Asha Ellison, head coach for Girls on the Run Charlotte.
Girls on the Run tries to inspire girls to recognize their inner strength and celebrate what makes them one of a kind. Trained coaches lead small teams through research-based curricula, which includes discussions, activities and running games.
Ellison said that she tries to inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident with a creative tie to running.
“The organization is dedicated to creating a world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams,” she said.
Girls on the Run Charlotte was established in 1996. In 2000, Girls on the Run International was born. Today, Girls on the Run Charlotte has 130 program sites in Mecklenburg and Cabarrus counties.
In 2016, they served over 3,750 girls, and sponsors were able to provide financial assistance to 59% of the girls who otherwise would not have been able to participate.
Over the course of a 10-week program, girls in third through eighth grade develop skills to help them navigate their worlds and establish a lifetime appreciation for health and fitness.
The program culminates with girls positively impacting their communities through a service project and being physically and emotionally prepared to complete a celebratory 5K event.
A crucial component for the program is the mentors and the relationships that are built.
"A good mentor is someone who is experienced in the areas where they provide mentorship," Ellison said. "They are selfless, empathetic and genuinely have the best interest of the people and communities they serve in mind."
For Ellison, her life goal is to have an impact on the world through people and to pay forward the nurturing motivation and care that her environment provided her when she was young.
“It is important for girls of color to see women of color pursuing their dreams, exploring their creativity and navigating the world,” she said. “Especially in communities where this is not the norm.”
Her personal motto is "each one, teach one," which to Ellison means that it’s up to everyone to light the way for the next generations.
“There is no greater joy than to see the girls I mentor discover and embrace their self-worth and celebrate their successes and hard work,” she said.
Lessons are designed to build girls' self-worth and help them feel greater confidence in who they are. Activities are created to help girls recognize their personal strengths and teach them how to stand up for themselves and others.
The mentees’ joy and personal development motivates Ellison to keep giving back and to continue challenging herself.
“If anything, mentoring has really taught me that we all need each other,” she said. “Showing up for them allows you to show up for yourself even more and vice versa.”
A mentor-mentee relationship doesn’t have to be complex. For Ellison, a mentor is someone who is committed to and invested in giving their time and resources to the development and success of those in their care. They provide safe spaces for mentees to learn, navigate hardships and to thrive.
Mentoring is linked to improved academic, social and economic prospects for youth. When you volunteer to become a mentor, you are not only positively impacting someone's life, you are ultimately helping to strengthen our local community and workforce.
"I've seen an increase in self-love and care towards others," Ellison said. "I think that's important because it's through empathy and compassion that we change the world."
A valuable resource in Charlotte for the mentoring community is the Mayor’s Mentoring Alliance. The alliance educates mentoring organizations about best practices and mentoring standards, ignites impactful and enduring mentor-mentee relationships and connects Charlotte’s mentoring community.
The Mayor’s Mentoring Alliance is hosting a mentor mingle Taco Tuesday. The event serves as an opportunity for you to network with current mentors, prospective mentors, organizations and allows for you to learn of opportunities to get more involved in the mentoring community.
The Mentor Mingle is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 5 at Live 360 in Northlake Mall, 6801 Northlake Mall Drive, and will be held from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Food will be provided.
The Mayor’s Mentoring Alliance is asking for nominations for deserving individuals or organizations that have made a difference in the lives of Charlotte children and youth through a commitment to mentoring.
To learn about mentoring or meet others interested in mentoring, people can attend a Mayor’s Mentoring Alliance Mentor Mingle and connect with individuals and organizations that can provide mentor and mentee opportunities.
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