When Karen Spencer of Uxbridge first encountered Girls on the Run in 2004, little did she know she would be pioneering the program in Central Massachusetts a decade later. Now, with 24 locations up and running, Spencer hopes to keep growing the program in the area.

“This is something I am passionate about, and I want to give back to girls. There are so many things coming at girls today, and I want to help combat that”, said Spencer.

The Girls on the Run (GOTR) program in Auburn got started at Swanson Road Intermediate School three years ago with Claire Swenson of Auburn as the local coordinator. The program now runs after school twice a week for about 90 minutes. Currently, Teri O’Donnell is the coordinator, working with several coaches. Most are parents and teachers from SWIS.  The next session is scheduled to begin in mid-March.

While the program emphasizes running, stamina and physical fitness, it is more than that.

“We focus a lot on the social and emotional development of these girls as well” Spencer said.  “We talk about nutrition as well as things like bullying, dealing with conflict, social media and leadership.”

The GOTR program got its start in North Carolina in 1996 and has since expanded to 200 councils in all 50 states, and serves nearly 200,000 girls every year. The national organization has developed and distributes curricula to be used by the local councils. There are two primary programs, one for grades 3-5 and one for grade 6-8. GOTR is a 501c3 organization, and all of the coaches and directors are volunteers.

According to Spencer, there are about 15 girls and 2-3 coaches comprising a full team. Running is a key component of the program, but it’s not just for athletes. Local coaches receive a variety of training through local, national, and online resources.

Katie Esposito, a personal trainer and GOTR coach, agrees. “Every girls needs this program, athlete or not an athlete” she said. “It’s great when we have a range of demographics and athleticism, they all need to know the emotional side, how to build self-esteem” she said.

Noting that her children are all boys, Esposito went on to add “I didn’t realize the difficulty girls face. It is really epidemic. Girls don’t realize they have a voice.”

Esposito and Spencer say the impact on the girls is dramatic.

“We’ve had cases where girls will write letters to other girls about their behavior” said Spencer.  “The program provides the girls with more coping skills to deal with today’s world.”

Spencer hopes to add a program at the Auburn Middle School in the coming months, as well as possibly expanding the SWIS offerings.

You can learn more about the program by visiting https://www.gotr-worc.org/.