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Girls on the Run aims to improve emotional and physical health in young girls

The nonprofit organization strives to help girls build their self confidence early on in life.

YORK, Pa. — Inspiring young girls to be their best selves, Girls on the Run is making an impact across the U.S. and right here in South Central Pennsylvania. 

The nonprofit organization strives to help girls build their self confidence early on in life. 

"By age six, girls are stopping believing they can do amazing things like becoming president, and by age nine their self-esteem actually peaks," Council Director of Girls on the Run Capital Area, Gillian Byerly said.

Invested in physical and emotional health, Girls on the Run uses evidence based curriculum in schools and the community. 

Byerly said they show girls their limitless potential by getting them active, which can have a positive impact on their mental health. 

Alexis Jesmer is 11-years-old. She got involved with Girls on the Run Capital Area when she was in third grade.

"I saw a great difference in her ability to be more positive about herself, her self confidence grew," Julie Jesmer, Alexis's mom said. No, she wasn't the first one that finished but she finished and that's what was important."

"It's helped me feel like I can fit in better… and it's helped me mentally and socially," Alexis said. Mental health means to me that I can accomplish social skills that might challenge me."  

The organization tries to reach girls at the elementary school age, to let them know that they can do amazing things -- but going virtual this past year was challenging. 

"Fifty-percent of girls experience bullying in the form of name calling or exclusion," Byerly said. "Now with social media and virtual school, online bullying has significantly increased by 70%." 

She said socialization is critical at a young age and has a tremendous impact on mental health. As far as teens go, she said rates of anxiety and depression have significantly increased.

Alexis said learning virtually was not something that worked for her. She said it made her feel like she wasn't herself, because she likes to socialize with her friends. 

After roughly six hours of Zoom-learning a day, she said when it came time to do homework -- she just couldn't look at a screen any longer. 

The organization is helping their girls work around the "disruption" and lost opportunities. Ninety-seven percent of those involved said they've learned critical life skills -- and 94% of parents said their girls valued the experience. 

Alexis's mom explained that a few years ago, her daughter didn't feel good about herself, but Girls on the Run helped. 

"She didn't feel good about herself because everyone around her looked different and in her world looked better than she did…. she's now comfortable in her own skin," Julie said.

Alexis is now accepting of who she is although it was a struggle to get there. Girls on the Run and encouragement from her mom helped her reach her limitless potential, according to the two of them. 

Words from her mom that Alexis reminds herself every day..."You got this, you can do this."

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