Remaining Resilient and Using Your Voice for the Next Generation

For many people, hearing the words “safe space” can immediately prompt a reassuring, uplifting memory. What does your safe space look or feel like?

Are you surrounded by encouraging friends? Supported by a mentor that believes in you? Maybe you are in nature taking in the fresh air and enjoying the sunshine on your skin. Safe spaces do not have to be complicated and are different for everyone. They can be as simple as a cuddle with your dog, an afternoon of baking with a grandparent or that particularly cozy corner of the library where you most enjoy reading. At Girls on the Run, we are committed to creating such communities of belonging where every girl is safe and comfortable to be herself. Our girls’ safety is paramount in everything we do. From the first practice to the end-of-season 5K, we take every precaution to ensure girls have an assured, welcoming and warm experience.

This National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we are casting a light on our excellent partners at Darkness to Light who help make this possible and one brave and resilient GOTR volunteer who overcame past trauma through her involvement with the program.

The well-being of our participants is at the forefront of all of Girls on the Run programming making our partnership with Darkness to Light all the more critical.

Darkness to Light is a non-profit organization that empowers adults to prevent child sexual abuse. Their work envisions a world free from child sexual abuse, where children can grow up happy, healthy and safe. As national leaders in their field, Darkness to Light works to accomplish their vision through comprehensive, first-of-its-kind prevention programming. The sad truth is, one in 10 children will experience some form of sexual abuse before they turn 18 years old. This means it’s up to all of us to ensure kids have the childhood they deserve. Darkness to Light equips adults with tailored tools and education needed to protect children. These tools come in the form of trainings and educational resources, community advocacy campaigns, and strategic consulting services. All of Darkness to Light’s educational programming is built on a framework called The 5 Steps to Protecting Children™.

Our vital partnership with Darkness to Light has deepened our dedication to protecting our participants and connecting them to experiences that positively impact them for life. Similarly, we know that these experiences are transformative and can alter a person’s perspective long after they cross the finish line.

One inspiring Girls on the Run memory can be enough to completely reshape someone’s entire future.

Of those positively impacted by the program is Sarah Berkes, who began her involvement at GOTR in 2016 as a special events volunteer.

Because of Girls on the Run, she was able to enter her future with a reinvigorated spirit, open heart and fearlessness to achieve her goals. For as long as Sarah could remember, she had the goal of moving to the Big Apple and living out her “The Devil Wears Prada” dreams. Lover of design, creativity and female empowerment, Sarah set her sights on making a mark in the fashion world.

After graduating college, though, her career trajectory, unfortunately, did not go as planned, as she struggled to find her way both with her living situation and career. And even prior to these difficult circumstances, Sarah experienced something even more painful that she buried deep down. At age 19, Sarah was sexually assaulted, and kept it a secret for nearly ten years. It was not until she found Girls on the Run that she found the self-assurance, comfort and community to share her story. In 2016, Sarah began her involvement at Girls on the Run after researching volunteer opportunities in her area. Eager to help young girls, Sarah aspired to participate in an initiative that would also enrich her heart and soul, even in the midst of her complicated job search.

Ultimately, it was the Girls on the Run mission and people that gave her the strength to publicly share her experience with the world.

“I really feel that my experience is what inspired me to want to give back and help other girls. It is my goal that they have the tools to remain confident, and if not, feel supported enough to ask for help when they need it most,” Sarah said.

After discovering GOTR and volunteering with fundraisers, the Sneaker Soiree and annual 5K’s, Sarah’s confidence reached a new level.

In 2017 AND 2019 Sarah was a finalist in Miss New York USA, where she used the Girls on the Run mission as her platform. Now, seven years into the program, Sarah still gives back to Girls on the Run as a SoleMate and a volunteer fundraiser for both the New York City and Chicago councils. Her hard work, perseverance and inherent talent also paid off in the job department! She currently is a Senior Account Manager at Martini Media, where she develops, coordinates and executes client campaigns. Tying perfectly into her passion for merchandise, many of her clients are luxury item manufacturers, lifestyle brands and fashion designers.

Sarah believes that Girls on the Run has contributed to her leadership skills both in and outside of the workplace – helping her to return to her confident and passionate self. The 5K, in particular, always serves as an uplifting reminder of the limitless potential that lives within her as well as the leaders of tomorrow.

“It is so inspiring to see girls at the 5K doing what they are doing at such a young age,” Sarah said. “This event reassures girls that they don’t have to quiet themselves or make themselves smaller. At the 5K, they are the main event. The whole day, girls are in the spotlight and reminded that they can do whatever they set their mind to.”

By speaking up, Sarah used her voice to ignite self-esteem in the next generation of girls.

Through this action, she raised visibility about sexual assault to girls in her community and helped advance the goals National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. National Sexual Assault Awareness Month strives to be a voice of the victims of sexual abuse and violence. Furthermore, this Month aims to expand understanding and awareness about sexual violence and teach people everywhere how they can prevent it and support survivors, like Sarah. All year long, let us keep her strength, example and commitment to helping others top of mind. Because of Sarah’s positive influence and bravery to share her story, more girls will learn how to speak their truth, remain empowered no matter what and picture Girls on the Run when they think of their “safe space.”

Make a difference in the lives of girls in your community like Sarah! Click here to get involved at GOTR.

If you or someone you know is experiencing sexual abuse, please call: 1-800-656-4673. And to learn more about National Sexual Assault Awareness month, please visit: https://www.nsvrc.org/saam.

Find additional details about the important work done by Darkness to Light, here: https://www.d2l.org/.