This paid advertising by Girls on the Run is underwritten by Envision Financial Group.

In the past two months, our everyday lives have been turned upside down. Jobs have been lost or are based on Zoom calls, people are more isolated than ever, household financial landscapes have changed and anxieties of the uncertainty and unknown are running high. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed life as we know it for everyone, some more than others, and nobody knows what lies ahead. While adults are making adjustments to ensure their professional responsibilities are met and families are fed, our children are facing similar stressors. Their daily routines have changed, they are navigating remote learning, and many are facing family dynamics they’ve never experienced before. And, with the school year ending, an important connection for students will be missing. Although a mostly invisible burden, we cannot be blind to what our children are carrying on their shoulders right now, and the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will have on them.

The COVID-19 crisis has been deemed as an adverse childhood experience or ACE. According to the CDC, ACEs are potentially traumatic events occurring during childhood (ages 0-17) with lasting negative outcomes for health, well-being, and opportunities. While we are not sure of the specific impacts the COVID-19 pandemic will have on our children, it is certain that we need to be intentional about establishing appropriate supportive strategies to give our children the opportunity for learning emotional regulation and positive coping skills by way of what Dr. Mark Brackett, professor in the Yale University Child Study Center, calls the “permission to feel.”

With so many resources available, it can be difficult to sift through or find the time to figure out what is the right approach for you and your family. Giving permission to feel the loss of so much (friendships, school, important events, activities, and sometimes the physical loss of a loved one) and balancing what connection means during this time are just two challenges individuals are facing. Kylie Homan, GOTR Program Coordinator and former school psychologist, reminds us that the most important thing to remember is that children look toward adults for guidance on how to react to stressful events. Take the time to respond with truth and reassurance, and allow for children to write and/or express their thoughts and feelings. Recognize the significant disruption to traditional connection and community, and provide alternative opportunities and activities to strengthen the connections that are feasible at this time. Deep breathing, intentional focusing on the positives, establishing and maintaining a routine, and identifying projects that might help others are all great coping strategies to support ourselves and others during this time. We’ve been reminded that not all families are fortunate enough to have food and mental and physical security, causing an additional source of stress for some children. If possible, consider a project that supports the needs of others. Also recognize that we can be the model by demonstrating healthy problem-solving, flexibility, and compassion with our ever-changing schedules and balancing work and home responsibilities. Girls on the Run has provided our adult coaches with the foundation for growth just as much as the girls who participate. As one coach recently reflected on the Spring 2020 GOTR at Home lessons, he shared how the program has translated into his family’s everyday life during this time of quarantine, “…we really have adopted a lot of the principles into our everyday life. Namely, challenging each other to find ways ‘out of our heads’ to solve our day to day problems. Also we try and take time to make our emotions heard and felt. I think now, more than ever, having a way to discuss emotions is essential to mental health.”

Ultimately, offering abundant love and affection will serve to protect our children in a multitude of ways. Establishing a secure connection with an adult provides unlimited opportunities for conversation to help our youth process the current state of their world. As Kristin Souers, a top professional in the field of trauma has remarked, we are “forever changed, not forever damaged” by trauma. The same is true of the trauma brought forth by COVID-19. Use it to re-define ourselves for the better from this point forward.

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. These skills are more relevant than ever as we think about the futures of our girls.

Girls on the Run can serve as a shining light and additional layer of support for much of what our community is facing. The foundation of GOTR is based on our 5C’s +1: confidence, character, competence, care, connection, and contribution. The Girls on the Run 10-week, research-based, physical activity positive youth development program, integrates the standards of social-emotional learning (SEL) and has been named one of the top three afterschool social-emotional learning programs in a study completed by Harvard University. The outcomes of the GOTR program tell a story that is full of promise, as illustrated through these words from a coach, “The girls don’t just learn skills like leadership, decision-making, problem solving and self-advocacy. They also use, teach and model those skills around their non-GOTR classmates. Our girls return to their classrooms and change the world.” In a longitudinal study, 97% of girls learned critical life skills such as resolving conflict, intentional decision-making, helping others and managing emotions at school, home and with friends. These skills are vital as children navigate the challenges of being socially distanced, and will be crucial as we slowly return to a new sense of normal.

When GOTR made the difficult decision to discontinue their in-person season this spring, 1,400 girls from every school district in Lancaster and Lebanon counties were provided the opportunity to experience the Girls on the Run transformation by participating in the GOTR at Home activities. The GOTR at Home activities remained tied to the GOTR core values and focused on topics particularly important during the new COVID-19 transition time. These fun and interactive lessons, designed in both written and YouTube video format, provided girls with the opportunity to learn and grow and have an adult join in on the fun.

Along with the discontinuation of our Spring in-person programming, our inaugural Girls on the Run Summer Camp has also been impacted. Although disappointed that we will not be able to launch our Girls on the Run Summer Camp, we are excited to announce the availability of Power Up Activity Kits to provide a fun and meaningful way to keep girls learning, moving and growing in the summer months. While Power Up is not a replacement for the GOTR program, it provides meaningful activities that balance the needs of our girls and families.

Looking forward, we are working with our school district and community partners to reimagine the GOTR program for the Fall 2020 season. This flexible Fall Program will most likely look different than our traditional in-person 10 week curriculum based program. Regardless of what it looks like, we will remain steadfast in ensuring we equip girls with the significant tools they need to cross the finish line at our season culminating 5K; whether in person or virtually, in a large crowd or a small group.

Whatever learning might look like this fall, Girls on the Run will have the ability to provide flexible program delivery with a nationally recognized SEL experience to girls in 3rd-8th grades led by trained volunteer coaches. The importance of SEL is unmatched and is emerging as a powerful means to support one another during this difficult time. Our role in helping our families maintain positive mental health and fostering healthy relationships is more critical than ever before. As Dr. Damaris Rau, Superintendent, School District of Lancaster, shared with us, “It was such a loss to not have the 5K event, but knowing that the girls maintained their ties to the program and their coaches warms my heart. Thank you for your partnership and lets pray that we will be able to have some physical contact in the fall so the students can enjoy the company of their friends and coaches.” To learn more about the programs above, please visit our website.