Go Ask Mom

Go Ask Mom

More than running: Girls on the Run teaches girls life skills

Posted April 30

Pamela Howell-Davis wasn't sure how she'd fit coaching her daughter's Girls on the Run program into her busy schedule, which already included a full-time job and running a household with her husband of almost 15 years.

But, inspired by a friend who also had served as coach, Howell-Davis made the jump, becoming part of the team of volunteers that run Girls on the Run programs across North Carolina and around the country. She's so glad she did.

Howell-Davis is a mom of two daughters, who has spent her professional career working in retail and fashion - for the last decade as merchandise coordinator in North Carolina for Nautica.

She's also a volunteer coach at Pearsontown Magnet Elementary School in Durham, leading the girls on runs, but, more often, giving them the tools they need to be joyful, healthy and confident through lessons and exercises. The nonprofit girls empowerment program is designed for girls ages 8 to 13 and focuses on teaching life skills. At the same time, participants prepare for a 5K, which ends the season.

Howell-Davis has never been a runner. But two major physical events - participating in a 25-day Outward Bound course when she was 22 and the Aids Ride: Boston to New York - have contributed to her daily philosophy: "Never give up. You can do this. Life is good."

I checked in with Howell-Davis to learn more about Girls on the Run and what she loves about the program. You'll hear more about Girls on the Run here on Go Ask Mom over the next couple of weeks. The Triangle-based chapter is looking for volunteer coaches. The nonprofit's website has more information.

Here's a Q&A:

Go Ask Mom: Why did you get involved in Girls on the Run as a coach?

Pamela Howell-Davis: Four years ago, my oldest daughter wanted to sign up for Girls on the Run. I was unfamiliar with the program at the time and I though, "yeah great, she wants to run!" But the program was much more. The lessons made her think, exposed her to new girls and gave her a sense of confidence.

Once I witnessed the power of the lessons, I wanted to be a coach, but just could not see how I was going to juggle coaching and work. I kept thinking about how I could do this with my daughter. I wanted to coach with one of my friends, Carrie. She had been coaching for years at Pearsontown. She was funny, warm and had a way with kids that inspired them. I thought if Carrie can do it, I just need to do it, too. Sadly, before I had a chance to coach with Carrie, she passed away.

So you ask why I wanted to coach. I wanted to inspire the Girls on the Run girls at Pearsontown the way Carrie had inspired my girls. I wanted to contribute and be there for the next generation of girls. And, there comes a time when you have to put life in perspective and do the things that really matter to you and make a difference.

GAM: Some people think it's a running program, but it's much more than that. What do you want parents, especially, to know about GOTR?

PH-D: You are right. It is more than a running program. I learned firsthand with my daughters. It is a character building program that gives girls a chance to have a voice, an oh moment, to think, contribute and learn about healthy eating and exercise in a fun, safe environment.

I feel that GOTR gives the girls a sense of belonging to a unique group. They see each other in the hallways at school and immediately they have a GOTR connection. They have a friend.

In addition, taking part in an organized 5K where there are hundreds of girls their age running is so powerful! An experience they will always remember.

GAM: How was it coaching your own daughter?

PH-D: Coaching my daughter has been different. I really have tried to set some boundaries during the practices, to remind her that I am Coach Peppy Pam during the lessons and that she needs to listen and be helpful. I really want her to understand and absorb as much of the lessons as possible. But I love that I am there to celebrate the successes and to cheer her on.

The fun part too is when we are at home, I can role play the different scenarios from the lesson or ask her to communicate using the acronym she just learned. She says to me, “Oh, Mom…”

GAM: What's it like guiding these girls through the program? Do you see those light bulb moments for them as you go over the material? What do you think the big takeaway is for them?

PH-D: I love the way the program is set up. Each lesson builds on the next one and every girl needs to be at each lesson to fully appreciate what is going on. Participation is key. When the girls talk about the lesson and come together to either work as a team, solve the problem or offer suggestions to help each other, you feel, "WOW, they get it." When the girls get it, they really come together as a team and the energy is high.

At the end of each lesson, the girls walk, run or skip around the track. Randomly, we quiz them on their acronyms and/or give them questions on things to think about and discuss. My favorite part is watching them take turns going around with different girls and talking about the lesson of the day.

I believe the big take away for the girls is that they get to be with their friends, learn tools to problem solve and be part of a group where they feel included. From there, they have confidence to be themselves and make better choices.

GAM: What would you say to another mom, who might be considering becoming a coach?

PH-D: Coaching is so rewarding. It’s amazing to see girls participate, interact, articulate and grow. I learn something from each girl each time and I am so glad I have had this opportunity to participate.

Go Ask Mom features local moms every Monday.

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