By Rebekah Jordan
On any given Thursday afternoon, energetic chatter and girlish laughter rise from the Ron Russell Middle School track.
At first glance, one might not recognize what kind of a group this is. They are not a sports team – some of them walk, some of them run, some are wearing flip-flops or Uggs or even skirts.
Regardless of their background or age, their outfits or athletic ability, one common denominator unites them all: they are having fun, and pushing themselves to new boundaries.
They are GRIT girls – Girls who Run to Inspire and Teach. The group is a local non-profit, founded in April of 2013. The mission of the organization is to affirm the self-worth, expand the mindsets and build the healthy lifestyles of middle school girls.
Friends since 5th grade, Laura Robinson and Rebekah Jordan were inspired to start GRIT because they sensed the cultural and relational battlefield many girls find themselves navigating in middle school.
Robinson and Jordan both believe in the power they have seen running in their own lives. It is an activity that neither of them got involved in until their 20’s, but wish they had discovered at a much younger age.
The group works with middle school girls at Ron Russell Middle School to help them on a journey to self-acceptance, mutual female respect, and holistic healthy living.
Competitive running is not the goal. Rather, running is the medium through which friendships blossom and conversations are started. Leadership, bullying, personal hygiene and positive self-image are a few of the topics their conversations focus on throughout the year.
Ron Russell Middle School, in the David Douglas School District, has an enrollment of 881 students. It is one of the sites identifying as a SUN (Schools Uniting Neighborhoods) Community School.
GRIT is one of over 100 choices students can take part in, among Zumba class, Lego Robotics and Creative Writing. These programs serve more than 120 students during a fall, winter, and spring term. This year they had about 15 girls consistently participating each term.
“In my opinion, the biggest indicator of GRIT’s success is the graduating 8th graders who can’t wait to come back as volunteers next year,” says cofounder Robinson.
She explains how the organization is moving towards a model of mentorship, in which older girls who have been through the program before will start to gain more responsibility in teaching ones just beginning.
The organization has two events this month open to the community.
The first, September 21, is the 2nd annual Fall Party. Last year, this event served as the group’s kickoff and brought in start-up funds needed for non-profit filing fees, logo designs, etc.
This year, the group hopes to double the amount they raised in 2013.
“We would love to have the funds in place to be able to buy the girls a pair of running shoes when they join the program,” says Jordan.
“We also have a year-long curriculum written that we want to publish and print into workbooks for them to use.”
The party will be an open-house backyard cocktail hour, complete with a DJ, hor d’oeuvres, a silent auction, and a showcase of their activity last year.
The 2nd event this month functions as the introduction to the 2014 school year.
Last winter, GRIT applied for and was awarded a free screening of Finding Kind, a documentary made by two young women addressing the issue of girl-on-girl bullying.
“We were thrilled when they contacted us to say we had won the screening,” says Robinson. “The mission and goals of the Kind Campaign dovetail with GRIT’s so seamlessly, it will be the perfect way to lead into this school year.”
The documentary will be preceded by a free dinner, and will take place at Ron Russell Middle School on September 25 at 6 pm.
“Has your opinion of yourself changed since joining GRIT?” A survey at the end of spring term asked the participants. “Yes…because I say good things about myself [now],” responded Noreema.
This is exactly the kind of sentiment that drives Jordan and Robinson to continue.
For more information about GRIT, email Robinson at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Jordan at email@example.com.