The Ripple Effect: Girls on the Run

The Ripple Effect: Girls on the Run

This story begins with a 9-year-old girl and her teacher. At the age of 9, she was beautiful and bubbly, intelligent, and funny.  Always tall for her age, she possessed a body built for strength. Nine was a year of growth and a year of self-doubt for her. This would be the year that she became more sensitive about how she looked and the size of her clothes. In spite of every bit of praise her parents could muster about who she was and the amazing things her body could do, she only understood that her body was different. And like many of us, she didn’t want to be different, she wanted to blend in.

It was the same year that her amazing third grade teacher introduced her to a program called Girls on the Run (GOTR). From March to June, she became a runner. She would come home after each practice and share how many laps she was able to do. The number of laps grew, but more importantly she grew. She would come home and tell her family about the lesson of the day. Girls On The Run incorporates lessons on self-esteem and self-confidence, while it encourages healthy eating choices and taking care of your body. Soon, inspirational quotes from the lessons they completed started to appear on her door. At the same time, she started to explore healthier snacks and became more aware of the choices she was making. This program was making a positive impact!

Annually, the waves of that 9-year-old girl’s story ripple from the Little Lehigh Creek in Emmaus to the Lehigh Valley Parkway on a late May evening. This is known as “5K day” for GOTR and it is traditionally filled with hundreds of girls, upbeat music, stands to get your hair sprayed, and healthy snacks. On this evening every spring, you will find happy teams taking pictures together as they prepare to run. The gun goes off and hundreds of girls take off together. The sidelines are brimming with cheering fans and the course filled with words of encouragement between runners (where water stations are placed at key stations). And the course, itself, is filled with running buddies encouraging their partners. These girls, many running their first 5K, all cross the finish line. Sure, they did so at different paces, but the cheers are as strong for the first one who crosses as they are for the last one. The 9-year-old finishes her race with her mom by her side and her teacher at the finish line to congratulate her.  

The waves of this story ripple into the inner city of Allentown by Jordan Creek where two years later this Mom, now hooked on what this program did for her daughter, is known as Coach Helmer. She has her own team of 9-to 11-year-old girls. While these girls share many similarities to her daughter, they need additional things from the program. For them, this program is a safe and productive after school activity that keeps them engaged with volunteer, trained coaches who teach them about believing in themselves and being confident in their growing bodies.  It is about teaching them healthy habits and providing them with a nutritious snack while giving them role models in a world that has thrown many challenges their way. GOTR teaches these girls that they can do anything they put their mind to if they pace themselves and keep at it.

The story continues to this day and the ripples continue to flow. Coach Helmer now serves as the GOTR LV Steering Committee Chair. She dedicates her time to making sure that girls across the Lehigh Valley have the same access to this program as her now 16-year-old daughter did at the age of 9. To two dozen girls at Grange Park every Monday and Wednesday this spring, she is known as Coach Devon. In her first year of coaching, she is loving the opportunity to encourage girls who remind her of herself just a few years ago.

This is a story of the ripple effect that we can have on each other and on our community. One encouraging invitation from an amazing teacher led Devon to sign up to be a Girl on the Run.  Two amazing seasons and their impact inspired her mom to coach girls in underserved communities. And many seasons later, the ripple effect continues with Coach Devon. I, for one, can’t wait to see where it leads. My name is Coach Jill Helmer and my daughter is Coach Devon. This is our GOTR story. 

Girls on the Run of the Lehigh Valley

Girls on the Run of the Lehigh Valley is celebrating its 14th year in 2021. Launched in the Lehigh Valley by Diakon Child, Family and Community Ministries, the first GOTR program was held at Jefferson Elementary in the Allentown School District in 2007. The program has grown from serving 15 girls in the first season to over 900 girls in 2019.  In spite of the pandemic, we are serving 365 girls at 28 sites this spring.  To learn more about us, visit our website at

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