Case Study: Empowering Confidence, Girls on the Run at Millersville University

Girls on the Run (GOTR) is an inspiring program encouraging unity, confidence, and healthy behavior in young girls in Lancaster and Lebanon Counties, Pennsylvania. The mission of GOTR Lancaster is to help girls of all abilities gain confidence and life skills. They also offer engaging, research-based programs that empower participants to see the possibilities, embrace their inner strength, increase their physical activity, as well as fearlessly stand up for others and themselves. GOTR leads life-changing lessons that combine physical exercise with vital life skills, such as friendship-building and empathy-expressing.

Every season ends with a celebration of accomplishments and positive effects on the community. The annual Millersville University 5K celebration is the high point of this organization’s fall season. With the encouragement and assistance of MU’s sports teams, clubs, and sororities, athletes in grades 3 through 8 learn the excitement of crossing the finish line. This event is not only an occasion to test the strength but also community and teamwork.

Interview with Jennifer West, Girls on the Run Executive Director, and Jes Wilson, 5K Manager

Tell us about your organization and the events that you have held at Millersville University.

Girls on the Run is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit that inspires individuals of all abilities to discover, build, and grow their self-confidence. Together, they experience a sense of belonging and connection as a team. Over 500 volunteer coaches each year facilitate lessons that blend physical activity with life skill development, including managing emotions, fostering friendships, and expressing empathy. At the end of the season, the team completes a Community Impact Project and a 5K together, which provides a tangible sense of accomplishment and sets a confident mindset into motion. GOTR holds a celebratory 5K every fall at Millersville University where many athletic teams, clubs, and sororities take part in cheering the girls on throughout the course and manage all our parking that day!

Girls on the Run starting line

What have been some of your goals with sponsoring the various events? 

The main goal is to create a safe and successful event so that our participants who are in grades 3 – 8 have the opportunity to cross the finish line feeling supported, encouraged, and realize that the finish line is just the beginning! Another goal is having a supportive community partner as we have found in Millersville University.

Happy participants

What have been the successes that you have realized through your campus events? 

We have found the successes for many of our participants extend way beyond finishing a 5K for the first time. We heard from a parent who ran with his daughter at Millersville University that she always told him she didn’t want to go to college but after running the 5K at Millersville University and seeing all of the athletic teams and clubs there supporting everyone, she now wants to go to college and she wants to go to Millersville University!  Another huge success is sharing the big picture of community with all of our participants and family.  They can see what the community looks like firsthand with the way that GOTR and Millersville University work together for the event.

Participant running in action

What can you share regarding the event logistics that have helped make your events successful?

Millersville is very accommodating in everything that we need for the day. We hold several meetings before the event with a committee made up of GOTR staff, Millersville University staff, and the Millersville University Police to work through the logistics of the event to ensure a safe and successful event. Communication, planning, and the engagement of the university overall make this event a huge success! Between participants and spectators, there are about 3,000 who come to the campus for our event.

Race day morning at Pucillo Field

Why do you decide to come back to Millersville University for your events? 

The support we receive starts with the President of Millersville University, to the athletic director, all the way down to the students and concession stand staff. The way the students come out to support our event takes it to the next level and our GOTR participants and families really enjoy the extra level of support and encouragement.  Each fall after the 5K, we hear from so many families that their girls loved seeing all of the college students there to cheer them on.  They feel supported and encouraged to do their best and to keep going when it feels hard.


What general advice do you have for other groups that are planning events for their organization?

Don’t hesitate! Reach out to them today! Millersville University has created such an amazing all-around community that is very willing to work with organizations to provide a safe and successful event.  We are already planning and can’t wait for our next 5K there this fall!

In essence, the partnership between Girls on the Run and Millersville University exemplifies the transformative impact of collaboration and support. Through shared goals, meticulous planning, and unwavering encouragement, GOTR continues to empower girls and cultivate a community of confidence and camaraderie. As the next 5K event approaches, the anticipation is palpable, fueled by the promise of another memorable gathering at Millersville University.

To learn more about Girls on the Run and their inspiring initiatives, visit their website and follow them on social media:

*Photos courtesy of Girls on the Run