BIO Girls are up and running - literally.
The 12-week program, designed for 7- through 12-year-olds, aims to develop healthy self-images while training for a 5K race.
Park Rapids organizer Beth Hirt explains, "It is a faith-based curriculum that focuses on teaching young girls that true beauty comes from within, they are strong, and they are always worth it."
BIO stands for Beauty, Inside and Out.
"I wanted to start a program in Park Rapids because, as a mother of two girls, I want them to know this truth and the young girls in this community also deserve to know this," Hirt said. "These truths are often misconstrued by social media, the internet, TV and even those we interact with on a daily basis. If we can teach these girls to spread love, kindness and the truth, hopefully it will have a ripple effect and we have done our job."
A nonprofit organization, BIO Girls began in Fargo in 2013. Starting as a single program with 35 participants, it has since grown to include locations across the Midwest and serves 1,200 girls. Founder Missy Heilman is Hirt's friend and a former college track teammate.
According to the BIO Girls website (www.biogirls.org), 62 percent of girls suffer from low self-esteem. That's why the program focuses on girls building "their self-worth based on their values, talents, philanthropy and individuality, not physical appearance, their wardrobe or how many likes a selfie gets."
In mid-April, Park Rapids BIO Girls began meeting once a week. Each one-and-a-half-hour session includes a devotional, a large group lesson, small group discussions and physical activity.
Hirt enlisted the help of 11 adult mentors - Amy Appel, Amy Morris, Jodi Erickson, Crystal Frette, Kaitlin Popanda, Brianne Morris, Shannon Hogan, RaNae Doll, Chelsie Weeding, Jackie Diekmann and Kristen Poehler.
Sponsorships by CHI St. Joseph's Health, RD Offut Farms, Citizens National Bank, Park Rapids Walker Eye Clinic, Character Challenge Course and Coborn's helped purchase BIO Girls T-shirts, supplies, a few scholarships and race registration fees.
As the weeks go by, the physical activity is gradually increasing in intensity, Hirt said. The girls are assigned "workout homework" three times per week.
"We are working toward finishing a 5K, with no concern of how long it takes to do it, but working towards accomplishing this goal together by giving our best effort, attitude and filling each others buckets," she said.
Discussion topics have ranged from friendship, gratitude and listening to your inner voice to mindfulness, choices and goal setting.
Each of the 35 girls received a journal for self-reflection.
Hirt said BIO Girls are advised to focus on four aspects that they can control: their attitude, effort, kindness and accountability.
Appel said she got involved with BIO Girls, along with her 8-year-old daughter. "It just sounded very uplifting and positive," she said.
Neither are runners, but "we're both working through it together."
Poehler, another mentor, said, "I'm all about girl empowerment and pushing them to be the best that they can be. I love watching girls succeed."
"It's fun to be a part of," Popanda agreed , adding she was "super honored" to be asked to be a mentor.
"I'm a dancer. I've never been a runner. I can dance all day long," she said.
Popanda said her daughter is also enjoying BIO Girls.
Carolynn Geimer, a Nevis fourth grader, said of BIO Girls, "It's very neat to meet new people and do fun activities."
Last week, as part of their community service-minded efforts, the BIO Girls walked to the Heritage Living Center to plant flowers with residents.
"It has been an amazing experience so far, and I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with these girls and mentors," Hirt said. "I can't wait to see their continued growth in the next few weeks and to watch every single one of them cross that finish line in July. God has made us all uniquely beautiful inside and out, so be bold, be strong, and be confident."