The stampede of tween girls taking the track at Napa Valley College on Saturday morning wasn’t chasing an adored pop star, but their cheers could have suggested otherwise. Instead, a rush of more than 300 girls donning painted faces, glittered hair and beaming smiles blazed past a crowd of supporters as part of the Girls on the Run: What Is Your Dream 5K.
Girls on the Run Napa & Solano is a nonprofit that offers an empowerment program to girls in grades three through eight. The 20-lesson program combines training for a 5K (3.1 miles) noncompetitive race with lessons that inspire girls to become independent thinkers and enhance their problem-solving skills while making healthy choices.
“This program is a tool kit for life,” said Janet Todd, Girls on the Run Napa & Solano executive director. “It’s a 10-week program that inspires girls to have confidence in themselves. The 5K is only part of the program. We also do community service projects, but most importantly, our goal is to have fun.”
In addition to the 307 girls representing 22 area schools, approximately 650 supporters also participated in the 5K, which is a fundraiser for the program. The race began at 9 a.m., but the young girls were unfazed by the early wakeup call on a chilly Saturday morning.
Salvador Elementary fourth-grader Aliza Kilburn, 8, completed her first 5K at the event and was pumped up by the experience. “This is my first one, and I had so much fun,” she said. “I’d do another one right now.”
Kilburn, who wants to be a pop star or veterinarian, said she’d like to participate in the program again next semester.
“It’s such a great program,” she said after the run. “It helps you feel positive and feel good about yourself. Girls on the Run is about respecting yourself and respecting others. And it makes sense. Why shouldn’t we feel good about ourselves? We’re awesome!”
Kilburn’s running buddy and classmate, Cheyenne Flower, 9, completed her third Girls on the Run event and hopes to do more in the future. “I had a lot of fun today. I love this program. It’s the best.”
Coach “Sparkling” Shannon Hattyar, teacher to both Kilburn and Flower at Salvador Elementary, said she is honored to be a part of a program that helps girls feel good about themselves.
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“This program brings such a important messages of positivity to girls.,” Hattyar said. “It’s about being healthy and taking care of yourself, but it’s about being yourself and embracing what is unique about you. I wish there was something like this when I was in school.”
As Hattyar watched Flower and Kilburn skip off to the snack table, she smiled, seeing the program’s continued success in another group of students. “What’s great about the run is that they have a sense of strength and accomplishment. They feel powerful. I’m so proud of them.”
After the run, the girls collected medals and made a pit stop at the Dream Hall, where Todd assembled a panel of inspiring career women to reinforce the idea that anything is possible. CAL Fire captain Alicia Amaro, pilot Cristina Acosta, Napa Mayor Jill Techel and winemaker Sarah Gott, who ran the 5K with her three children.
“I’m so happy to see so many girls out here today,” said Gott, winemaker and owner of Joel Gott Wines. “It’s an amazing program, and I’m so happy that I can be a part of it. I hope my story can inspire girls to reach for their dreams. There’s nothing stopping them. They can be whatever they put their minds to.”
Miranda Camacho waited patiently while daughters Aziza, 8, and Ariya, 6, chatted with Gott, smiling as Aziza discussed her hopes of becoming a chef.
“The positive messages that the girls learn through this program is priceless,” Camacho said. “I’ve seen her grow so much since joining this program. She has an improved body image and she’s just more positive about herself. Every girl needs a program like this. Ariya can’t wait until she’s old enough to join.”
To continue its community outreach to teach young girls the values of self-worth, Girls on the Run Napa & Solano will present a screening of “The Empowerment Project” on Tuesday, Dec. 2 at the Napa Valley Unified School District Auditorium from 6 to 8 p.m. The film follows five female directors as they journey across American to interview inspirational women in hopes of sharing their works and inspiring masses of young girls to strive to meet their goals.
Admission is free, but donations are welcome. To learn more about Girls on the Run Napa & Solano, visit gotrnapasolano.org.
Sarah Gott's wine affiliation has been corrected since first posting.