TRANSFER, Pa. -- More than 40 girls are "on the run" in four Mercer County school districts this fall.
The girls, in grades four through six, are taking part in an extracurricular activity designed to promote their physical, mental, emotional and social development.
Called Girls on the Run, it's strictly voluntary and is sponsored by the Womancare Center of UPMC Horizon and Magee-Women's Hospital.
The program started in Mercer County last spring in Reynolds Elementary School with 20 girls and expanded with the start of school this fall to include programs in Greenville, Mercer and Hermitage, said Susan Riley, program coordinator. A total of 42 girls are participating, she said.
Riley served as the coach of last year's session at Reynolds and plans to do some more teaching in the spring.
The first effort went well, she said.
"I saw their self-confidence improve," Riley said, adding that she also noticed an improvement in cooperation and development of respect for peers among those in the class.
Four of the girls from the first group are participating again this fall, she said.
In every school: The plan is to eventually have a program in every school in the region, she said.
Girls on the Run is a national program created by Molly Barker, a triathlete who serves as its chief executive officer, based on the theory that girls who participate in sports experience higher levels of self-esteem and confidence and lower levels of depression.
It's designed so participants set and achieve personal goals and learn to like themselves for who they are.
The girls meet twice a week after school for 24 weeks, discussing everything from dealing with gossip to having values, respecting others, community service and drug abuse prevention.
It also has a physical component, encouraging the participants to exercise, particularly through running.
Riley said 14 of the girls in the first class ran in a 5K race, and this year, all 42 were urged to run in the annual 5K Gobble Wobble run in Buhl Farm in Hermitage on Thanksgiving Day.
Riley said she is a graduate of Reynolds High School and saw volunteering to be a Girls on the Run coach as a way to give something back to the community.
All of the coaches so far are UPMC Horizon employees. One of them, Joni Murray, said she decided to step forward after hearing Barker speak at the grand opening of the Womancare Center in July.
"I really felt that I wanted to be a part of this program because of what it stood for," said Murray, the mother of two grown daughters. "I felt that training girls in this program would be good, not only for the girls, but for myself."
Reynolds has 19 girls in its program under coach Kim Lombardi, Hermitage has five under coach Marcia Leonard, Mercer has 19 under Murray, and Greenville has 15 under coach Cathy Ramsey.

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