Measuring the Remarkable Impact of Girls on the Run

“If you are a girl that is bad at making friends, nobody listens or understands how you’re feeling, and you sit alone every day — that was me. I was that person out of the crowd. Then I joined Girls on the Run. It changed my life. Now, I have way more than one friend by the second week of school and I have people who understand me. I used to yell out when I got angry; now I can hold in my temper. I love my life because of Girls on the Run.” – Colleen, age 9

Over the years, I have had the honor of receiving many notes and letters from girls like Colleen. These personal stories — written in pencil, crayon or marker — are frequently accompanied by photos, stickers and colorful drawings. Sadly, some of the girls share very real challenges like illness, violence or loneliness that they have already experienced in their young lives. Without fail, all the girls tell me what they learned at Girls on the Run about confidence, inner strength and their ability to accomplish big things.

These letters warm my heart and tenderly showcase the transformational impact that Girls on the Run has on the girls we serve. While all of these personal testimonies are incredibly inspirational, we now have data that validates this positive transformation as well!

In 2016, Girls on the Run commissioned an external, independent study to evaluate the impact of program participation. The third-party study was led by Dr. Maureen (Mo) Weiss, a Professor in the School of Kinesiology, and Adjunct Professor in the Institute of Child Development, at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Weiss and her team used a rigorous approach to evaluate the effectiveness of Girls on the Run on positive youth development.

The study specifically looked at whether Girls on the Run participants differ from a comparison group of girls not in the program on developmental outcomes, such as confidence, competence, caring, connection, character and contribution, and life skills. The study also evaluated whether Girls on the Run participants showed improvements in these outcomes from the beginning to the end of the program and if they retained those improvements over time.

What Dr. Weiss’s team found was powerful. In a sample that included 907 girls from three states, Weiss’s research found that 97% of Girls on the Run participants said they learned critical life skills at Girls on the Run, including managing emotions, resolving conflict, helping others or making intentional decisions. The skills that girls learned not only helped them during Girls on the Run sessions, but also carried over to home, school and time with friends.

Weiss’s team also found that the program had the strongest impact on the girls who needed it most. Girls who began the program with the lowest scores in confidence, character, competence, caring and connection had the most significant improvements by the end of the 10-week program. Additionally, girls who were the least active at the start of the program increased their physical activity level by 40%, maintaining it long after the program had ended.

Some of the participants, family members and coaches, as well as school personnel, participated in focus groups as part of the study. When asked how Girls on the Run impacted their lives, girls shared stories of how they learned to choose friends who build them up and encourage them; parents talked about how their daughters used Girls on the Run lessons to resolve conflict at home; and teachers expressed how they saw changes in their students. 11-year-old Malia shared this:

“Girls on the Run has helped me understand what it means to be a girl. Though it might be difficult, my coaches and friends have taught each other to be kind and respectful to one another and accept each other. It was an amazing experience being part of such a spectacular pack of girls. I will continue to teach others about what I learned with Girls on the Run and carry it with me for the rest of my life.”

Since becoming a nonprofit organization in 2000, Girls on the Run has served over 1.4 million girls, providing each with the opportunity to learn critical life skills. With your help, we can bring our transformational program to more girls, families, schools and communities, and teach all girls to carry those life skills with them for the rest of their lives.

Join the Girls on the Run movement today and help inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident. Click here to learn more!

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