ROSELLE, N J - Excitement and gratitude fill the air at the new Girls on the Run (GOTR) program site at Harrison Elementary School in Roselle. Fifteen girls from the school’s 4th grade are participating in the program, thanks to the generosity of the Summit Area Public Foundation, which supports local nonprofits to make a difference in Summit and neighboring communities.

Girls on the Run is a non-profit, physical activity-based positive youth development program that helps each girl to realize her potential. Volunteer coaches lead teams of 8-20 girls for a ten-week program that encourages personal development, team building, and connection to the community while training to complete a 5K run, which will be held in Florham Park on November 23. 

Harrison guidance counselor Christine Cutinello learned about Girls on the Run from Dr. Charles C. Polk Elementary teacher and GOTR coach Kristen Nevins. Cutinello says, “Kristen raved about the impact it [GOTR] had on her girls. So, I went by the next week and I was in awe, seeing all the girls smiling, laughing and having fun while exercising and talking about their feelings! I knew I needed to figure out a way to bring it to our school!” 

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At last Thursday’s practice, girls didn’t let the rainy weather get them down. Thrilled for the rare opportunity to run the school hallways, girls encouraged each other, chanting, “Girls on the Run is so much fun!” They pushed each other to complete the workout section of the lesson, proud of their accomplishment and enjoying the opportunity to be active. Reflecting on this team, coach Valerie Jozef says, “These girls are incredibly special and unique. They come from different backgrounds, cultures, and ethnicities. However, they are learning how to speak the same language: a language of respect, compassion, love, and support. It is incredible to watch them motivate each other and learn to communicate effectively.”

At GOTR, the girls are learning more than how to run. The safe and encouraging space provided by the Harrison volunteer coaches and program curriculum allows girls to discover their unique gifts and work together to accomplish goals. Program participant Nyalynn shared, “You can be whoever you are at Girls on the Run and share yourself here.” This sentiment is shared by the girls, with others saying, “Girls on the Run helps you to be more confident and teaches you to learn to love yourself just the way you are.” Annalisa said, “ You can be unique and different. I’m learning that we can work together.”

One of the most important lessons learned at Girls on the Run is that you’re capable of more than you imagined. One participant described this transformation in her thinking: “Girls can do anything. When I was little, my brother used to do anything, and I would have to help him. But then at Girls at the Run, they taught me I can do anything I want, the same things that boys get to do. I am thankful that the teachers brought Girls on the Run to us.”

Girls on the Run New Jersey East was established in 2000 and has impacted more than 10,000 girls throughout Essex, Morris, Union, Burlington, and Mercer Counties. For more information, visit www.girlsontherunnj.org.