By Todd Cohen
DURHAM, N.C. — Juliellen Simpson-Vos did not start running until after college, and while she is not fast, she “can put in the miles, go the distance,” she says, and has learned through training for several marathons that “you have to have multiple strategies to approach the challenge, but can be successful, which isn’t measured by winning but by how you approach it.”
That philosophy helps drive Girls on the Run of the Triangle, a Durham nonprofit Simpson-Vos heads that uses physical activity and running as tools to help girls throughout the region build character and courage.
“Our society is constantly hurling new facts, new ideas, new concepts, new challenges, and our girls need to be able to have a resource and a core they can go back to so they have an approach to handling it and feel confident in addressing it, with support systems, and understand why they approach it the way they do,” she says.
Founded in 2000, the nonprofit is an independent council of Girls on the Run International, which grew out of a nonprofit formed in Charlotte in 1996.
Counting on over 55,000 volunteers, Girls on the Run programs now serve over 130,000 girls in more than 200 cities in North America each year.
Girls on the Run of the Triangle operates with an annual budget of $450,000, a staff of three full-time and three part-time employees, and roughly 600 volunteers, and will serve 1,600 girls in grades three through five this year, three times the total it served four years ago.
Two-thirds of the girls are from Wake County and the others are split roughly evenly between Durham and Orange counties.
Girls participate in a 24-course program offered over 12 weeks in the fall and again in the spring, and hosted at public and private schools, after-school youth programs, and churches. Each program culminates with a 5K event.
While girls train for the 5K, they also learn about and practice strategies and skills such as goal-setting, communication and teamwork to build their confidence and self-esteem and address problems such as conflicts, bullying and peer pressure.
A group of four girls might be given a scenario, for example, in which a boy seated behind them in class is copying their work. Each girl then would be asked, while running a lap, to compose a phrase to respond to the boy. On completing the lap, the girls would share their responses, and then would be given a new scenario for their next lap.
“They’re thinking and doing something while running,” Simpson-Vos says.
Girls on the Run generates 65 percent of its revenue through fees and the rest through contributions. Participation in the 12-week program costs $200, and one-third of the girls receive a scholarship. Top sponsors include Quintiles and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina.
The nonprofit aims to be serving nearly 2,200 girls a year in 2017, and to expand the program to include older girls and women, beginning with a pilot this fall that will add one middle school each in Wake, Durham and Orange counties, and adding another 10 to 12 middle schools the following spring.
Eventually, Girls on the Run will expand to include high-school girls as “junior coaches,” more college girls as coaches, as well as mothers who serve as coaches or encourage their daughters to participate.’
“The idea is to provide programming that serves the entire life cycle of a girl and a continuum of these ideas and values,” Simpson-Vos says.
“The thing we’re doing is building strong, courageous girls,” she says. “Having the ability to understand who you are and what you’re made of and what your values are is the foundation for courage.”