Jess Sparks, Executive Director of Girls on the Run, believes in a holistic approach to supporting girls through healthy lifestyles and development of life skills — competencies learned in one domain or context (Girls on the Run) that are successfully transferred to other domains and contexts (dealing with a bully at school). Learn more about how Jess empowers young girls here.
What inspired you to join Girls on the Run?
I was inspired to join Girls on the Run initially as a volunteer coach in 2008 and then as Executive Director in 2010 as it focuses on two areas I am personally and professionally committed to furthering:
- Preventative/Upstream solutions for youth development
- Physical activity
As a Child and Family Therapist, I’ve heard from clients and their families how critically important healthy lifestyle choices and social-emotional skills are to ensure children and their families can experience positive health outcomes — mind, body and spirit.
How does your work impact young girls in the community?
Over the course of the Girls on the Run program, trained volunteer coaches support girls in strengthening life skills — which are known as the 5Cs +1 (confidence, competence, caring, connection, and character + contribution). We hope girls will develop and improve competence, feel confidence in who they are, develop strength of character, respond to others and themselves with care and compassion, create positive connections with peers and adults, and make a meaningful contribution to the community and society.
The 5Cs +1 contribute to healthy development through promotion of holistic health outcomes and prevention of unhealthy and risky outcomes. For instance, some indirect outcomes of the program may include promoting a physically active lifestyle and reducing health issues such as obesity, pregnancy, substance abuse, and eating disorders.
How has the partnership with Besa supported your work?
Girls on the Run Central Ohio partners with Besa in a couple different ways:
- Volunteers build coach boxes used to implement program curriculum. This service supports our staff and volunteer coaches, allowing them to focus on other priorities.
- Volunteers staff the activity and cheer stations at our Girls on the Run 5k’s to ensure the event is safe and fun for our girls as they find confidence through accomplishment on 5k day.
What moments are the most meaningful for you at Girls on the Run?
The moments that are most meaningful for me are hearing what the girls have learned about themselves at Girls on the Run and how they transfer that to everyday life in their relationships and interactions with others. The self awareness of one’s own strengths is where her limitless potential will thrive. Our girls shared repeatedly with us in the fall season that they have found strength by learning how to stand up for themselves and others and in building authentic connections with their teammates. Through intentional and authentic relationships, trained and supportive volunteer coaches create a positive, inclusive environment where girls can share, learn and grow.
As a leader, what does it mean to you to provide services that empower young girls in the community?
Being the Executive Director of Girls on the Run Central provides me the opportunity to be the person for our girls that I had in my life when I needed encouragement and support to go after goals. It is the focus of my leadership to support and encourage others in activating their limitless potential. This is a full circle, pay it forward experience for me.