LIVINGSTON, NJ — Due to lack of volunteer coaches in Livingston, Girls on the Run (GOTR), a nation-wide initiative to inspire young girls to be joyful, healthy and confident by integrating running into an experience-based curriculum, was unable to offer a team in Livingston this spring.
According to Lori Kapferer, director of community relations for GOTR New Jersey East, there were many girls in grades 3 through 5 who wanted to join GOTR, but either backed out or had to join a team in a neighboring town like West Orange or Millburn as a result. GOTR hopes to be able to bring the program back to Livingston for the fall season.
“Even when we tried to reach out to some of the parents of the girls, no one was really able to commit—which is an issue that we do have a lot of the time because it’s hard for people who are working full time” said Kapferer. “It’s a pretty hefty volunteer opportunity, so it’s a struggle sometimes.”
Livingston Township Councilman Michael Silverman, who is an avid runner and supported GOTR Livingston by accompanying them at a practice in 2015, said that GOTR is one of the best programs that the Township of Livingston has to offer its youth. Not only do the girls gain both interpersonal and athletic skills through this unique program, but Silverman also insisted that the coaches do as well and encouraged anyone with available time to get involved.
“If I had the time and was not currently involved with so many other things, I personally would be one of the coaches,” said Silverman. “I wish we could find more people to spend time with these girls. Anyone in Livingston that’s interested, please, if you need to have a conversation about it, I am more than happy to chat with you. I support Girls on the Run fully.”
Kapfefer, who began her career with Girls on the Run as a volunteer coach, became involved with coach recruitment in March of 2015 for exactly this purpose—encouraging others to spend some time inspiring the next generation of women to always be their best selves.
As a coach, volunteers have an opportunity help young girls in their community to develop crucial social and psychological skills as well as physical ones. According to GOTR’s mission, the end result is making the “seemingly impossible, possible” and teaching the girls that they can.
Throughout their 10 weeks of training, the girls work together to strengthen themselves mentally as well as physically while the coaches encourage them to apply what they have learned in GOTR to the choices they make in their day-to-day lives.
Trained volunteer coaches lead lessons that foster the girls’ confidence, help them build connections with their peers and encourage meaningful contribution to their community through a service project.
“It’s a great way to have an impact on young girls in our local communities and a way to make an impact in Livingston,” said Kapfefer. “Our coaches give a lot, but I think what they give into it they also get out of it in seeing these young girls be empowered and take charge of their own lives.”
Kapfefer said that the many coaches who come back to GOTR season after season often say things like, “I wish we had a program like this when I was a kid,” or that they receive something from the lessons that they prepare and teach to the girls. As a former coach, Kapfefer vouched that the strategies and skills that the coaches hand off to the girls become useful in their own lives.
According to Kapfefer, it is easiest for someone who lives or works in Livingston to become a coach, but there is no location requirement or gender requirement to be a volunteer GOTR coach.
A common misconception is also that the coaches have to be runners, which is not the case. However, Kapfefer said that GOTR does look for coaches who have some value for physical activity and who are able to encourage the girls to move forward whether they are running, walking or skipping to the finish line.
Volunteer coaches a required to complete a mandatory one-time training and should be available to meet with the girls twice a week at the Livingston Memorial Oval. Those who are interested, however, are encouraged to make the program happen at a time that works for them.
In other words, the coaches can dictate when the girls meet, whether it’s directly after school or on the weekends, so that people who work full time are still able to volunteer.
All teams in the Northern New Jersey area, including teams from Essex, Morris and Union Counties, will participate in the culminating GOTR 5K run currently scheduled for Nov. 19 in Florham Park, sponsored by R. Seelaus & Co., Inc. Program registration opens on Monday, Aug. 1, so GOTR hopes to have Livingston coaches in place as soon as possible.
“This is an awesome opportunity that our community has to offer to the girls,” said Kapfefer. “It’s a fairly large commitment but they often say that it’s worth it and that they get something really good out of it from seeing the change happen in the girls.”
Dylan Brookyn, an 11-year-old Livingston resident, was one of the girls who had to join another town’s Girls on the Run team this spring due to the lack of Livingston coaches. Click HERE to read her take on the program and why more people in the area should get involved.
The program currently serves girls in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and has had over one million total participants. To learn more about the Livingston girls who have previously participated, click HERE.
"I coach because I love helping girls realize their fullest potential of strength, self-confidence, sass, silliness, and self-love,” said a former Girls on the Run coach, describing her motivation.