On Sunday, Nov. 19, over 500 third to eighth graders gathered on Millersville University’s campus to run a 5k together. The participants were part of Girls on the Run Lancaster-Lebanon, and they celebrated the hard work they’ve put in over the past two months.
Girls on the Run is a national nonprofit organization that seeks to motivate young girls by combining physical activity with motivational lessons. Throughout the 10-week program, girls meet for these lessons while steadily building up the physical endurance to run, jog and walk a 5k, which takes place at the end of the 10 weeks.
Dr. Gail Gasparich, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost of Millersville University, is a member of the board for Girls on the Run Lancaster-Lebanon. She explains that Girls on the Run is unique in its focus on both physical and socio-emotional development for its two age groups, 3rd-5th grade and 6th-8th grade students.
“The real goal of Girls on the Run stems from the fact that at this age, self-confidence begins to erode. This is a way to get in front of that,” she says. “The girls really build a strong cohort. They look out for each other, build friendships and skills they can take beyond the program, and everybody’s learning together.”
“Physical activity is so important for mental health, and being physically active in a group setting can really bring about a positive mental health change for these girls at such a crucial time in their lives,” she adds. “This is a way to make exercise and learning a more fun experience.”
The Lancaster-Lebanon Girls on the Run 5k events take place twice a year, with Millersville University hosting the race each fall. The runners began the race at Pucillo Gymnasium to kick off one of the largest 5ks in the area, one which celebrates each individual runner regardless of their finishing placement.
Gasparich notes that these kinds of events that bring in the surrounding community are beneficial for the University. “Our students come from our community, and being able to contribute is really important,” she says. “It aligns with the University’s goals to help students develop and to help inspire students to change the world.”
Additionally, Girls on the Run is a meaningful organization for Gasparich. “When I first came to Millersville University, I really wanted to find an association that I could get behind,” she says, “My whole career has been spent trying to get women involved and empowered, and this program is a perfect fit.”
“The organization is really focused on bringing together the community and helping these young girls discover their own superpowers,” she concludes.