Girls on the Run will make a "big difference in your life."
That is what Dareesha Brooks-Alston, 12, would tell other girls about the program. Dareesha had the opportunity to complete the Girls on the Run program twice, at both the Williamsport YWCA and the Campbell Street Community Center.
Girls on the Run is an international prevention program provided by Diakon Family Life Services to girls in the third through eighth grades in schools and community centers in Lycoming County. Offered as a 10-week after-school program and a one-week summer camp, it partners physical activity and a life skills curriculum, which focuses on self-esteem, drug and alcohol education, cooperation, assertiveness skills, decision-making and community involvement.
Dareesha hugs her mother, Renee.
Of the nine girls who recently participated in Girls on the Run at the Campbell Street Community Center, training coach Angela Cicioni observed the most changes with Dareesha.
In her interactions with others, Dareesha uses kind words and has exhibited leadership traits. She often directly applies lessons learned from the program to situations in the community. For example, when kids are mistreating one another, Dareesha will intervene, tell them to stop, and then attempt to befriend the person who was teased.
According to Dareesha, "I learned how to be a good sport, cooperate with others, not to use drugs and how to express myself better." She also enjoyed getting to know other girls and about their life. As she grew closer in her relationships with others, Dareesha learned the valuable life lesson of "not to judge someone by the way they look, how they talk, or their background."
Dareesha had the unique experience of completing the program with her mother, Renee Alston, who became a trained coach. Renee indicated that the program had a tremendous impact on her daughter and enhanced their relationship.
Dareesha used to be a child who had a negative attitude and difficulty making friends due to being mean and arguing with others. Girls on the Run gave her an opportunity to make friends, learn how to treat others respectfully, be more positive and value herself. In addition, Dareesha is making healthier choice about what she eats, is exercising more, and taking pride in her appearance.
In being both Dareesha's mother and Girls on the Run coach, Renee was able to transfer skills from the program into their home, particularly related to being cooperative and respectful. Dareesha jokingly stated about her mother, "I didn't know she had that much patience," as it related to dealing with some challenging girls.
Renee shared an experience of one particular girl who had problems listening, was disrespectful and even stopped coming for awhile. Renee was persistent in calling her often, encouraging her to come back and "not giving up on her." Eventually, the girl returned and showed growth in her understanding of the program. From the experience, Renee grew in her confidence and ability to "reach some of the most troubled kids now." Renee is excited to coach again and believes it is an "excellent program."
"With funding from the Lycoming County United Way, we will be able to offer this program in more locations and give other girls the opportunity to grow like Dareesha," explained Michelle McElwee, council director for Girls on the Run.
"The Girls on the Run program is an prudent investment of United Way funding as it directly impacts young women at an impressionable age and is proven effective in addressing and eliminating some high-risk behaviors that would ultimately negatively affect their lives in later years," said Scott N. Lowery, LCUW executive director. "This program is in its first year under our United Way umbrella and is a positive example of our efforts to address emerging human service needs in the community."