NAUGATUCK — When Naugatuck Youth Services kicked off its first Girls on the Run program 12 weeks ago, several of the elementary school girls who participated were shy and insecure.
By the end of the program, they blossomed into confident young ladies who helped spread positive vibes throughout their schools.
“It was great to see them use some of the terms we had been talking about, like ‘plugging in your positive cord and taking out your negative cord,’” volunteer Lori Czajkowski said. “They were taking these lessons to school and telling their friends. It was amazing.”
Saturday marked the culmination of the program. Fifteen Naugatuck girls, each partnered with a female adult volunteer, finished a 5K in Hamden. Girls on the Run teams from Naugatuck, Cheshire and Hamden participated as part of the Greater New Haven Girls on the Run Team.
The goal of the program, which Naugatuck hopes to run annually, is to inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident, using a fun, experienced-based curriculum which creatively integrates running, according to nationwide organization’s website.
“We envision a world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams,” the website states.
The girls meet with volunteers twice a week and engage in a curriculum that teaches them how to: embrace differences and find strength in connectedness; express joy, optimism and gratitude through words, thoughts and actions; nurture physical, emotional and spiritual health; lead with an open heart and assume positive intent; and stand up for themselves and others.
Kristen Mabrouk, executive director at Naugatuck Youth Services, said a program that teaches girls these values “before they get to the point where they’re on social media and exposed to all kinds of mixed messages related to stereotypes, expectations and body image.”
“It helps build a strong foundation of self confidence to know how to handle and interpret those messages,” she said.
She said the community was firmly behind the program. The Naugatuck Rotary Foundation gave a grant to help families pay for the program. And the Naugatuck YMCA and St. Francis-St. Hedwig School gave use of their facilities.
Volunteer Tamath Rossi, Naugatuck’s deputy mayor, said when the course first started, some of the girls didn’t like running and were less than enthusiastic about the program.
“We just saw them grow and their personalities really started to emerge,” she said.
Parent volunteer Casey Cegielski said the program helped her 9-year-old daughter, Divinity, tremendously.
“It taught her about creating goals and completing them,” she said. “It taught her to encourage others and help and support her peers, but mainly it helped her build confidence in herself.”
Hannah DeCampos, 9, said the program made the girls think about how to treat one another.
“We had games where gossip was happening and we had to stop the gossip,” she said. “It was a lot of fun and the coaches were awesome.”
Her mother, Kelly DeCampos, said her daughter brought home a booklet that helped her speak to her daughter about issues facing young girls.
“It opened up a lot of dialogue; it was amazing how it brought us together,” she said. “It was so empowering for the girls, especially when they crossed that finish line.”
To learn more about Girls on the Run, visit www.gotrgnh.org.