BRATTLEBORO -- A dozen years after its incorporation, Girls on the Run of Vermont continues to grow.
The proof is in the text of an honorary resolution that will be formally introduced today in the state House: This spring, the Brattleboro-based nonprofit has more than 200 groups in 144 schools, where an estimated 3,000 girls will be learning about team building, positive attitude and physical fitness.
"The growth has just been fantastic," said Nancy Heydinger, executive director of the Vermont chapter of Girls on the Run. "We have schools contacting us, which is great."
Heydinger expects about 100 girls and coaches to congregate this morning in Montpelier to receive the resolution, which was introduced by Democratic state Rep. Valerie Stuart of Brattleboro.
"This resolution celebrates Nancy Heydinger and the fact that she brought this wonderful program to Vermont, which empowers girls and young women," Stuart said.
The legislative document tells the story of Girls on the Run's relatively rapid rise: The organization was founded in 1996 in Charlotte, N.C., and Heydinger got things started in Vermont in 1999 with a small program in Vernon.
Girls on the Run of Vermont Inc. was incorporated two years later.
Students in grades three through five can participate in Girls on the Run, and there is a "Girls on Track" program for those in grades six through eight. There are discussion groups, community service projects and a culminating, non-competitive 5K race.
Heydinger describes the Girls on the Run philosophy this way: "Our goal is to provide young girls with tools and confidence to make healthy decisions and form positive self images as they navigate through adolescence.
"Learning to enjoy running is an additional benefit to our program, but it is not our primary goal," she added.
To illustrate the program's success, Heydinger offers a sampling of participant responses to an end-of-the-season survey question: "What do you like about yourself?"
Answers included "that I am going to run a 5K," "that I am beautiful no matter what" and "that I can set goals and complete them."
Such messages have caught on and have spread statewide. Administrators say 25,000 girls and more than 2,000 volunteer coaches have participated in the program over the years.
Heydinger noted a net gain of 27 new sites for this year. The program has a presence in 13 of Vermont's 14 counties; Heydinger is hoping to soon expand into Essex County.
And the organization added a third 5K this year. Sandwiched between a May 25 race at Brattleboro Union High School and a June 8 race at the Champlain Valley Expo will be a new race scheduled for June 1 at the Vermont State Fairgrounds in Rutland.
Heydinger said she's hoping the Rutland event will "take the pressure off" the other two sites, which have seen growing numbers of runners. All told, the three races are expected to draw more than 8,000 people including program participants, parents and community members.
Girls on the Run has experienced other expansion-related pressures.
"Our biggest issue is not having enough volunteer coaches," Heydinger said. "This is wonderful growth. But we do need more volunteers and also some staff."
Today's Montpelier gathering might be a chance for the organization to drum up interest in volunteer work. It's also a chance for girls from across Vermont to experience state government firsthand.
"For most of them, it will be the first opportunity to be at the Statehouse," Heydinger said.
Stuart lauded the organization for its success.
"In today's society where women earn 87 cents to every dollar men earn and remain a minority on the top rungs of business and government leadership all across our country, young women need all the encouragement they can get to make the most of their lives," Stuart said. "Girls on the Run helps young women recognize that they are the mistresses of their own destinies.
"By building girls' confidence and helping them become physically and emotionally stronger, Girls on the Run paves a path of success for the young women leaders of our world, today and tomorrow," Stuart added. "I have great admiration for what Nancy has done to inspire over 25,000 girls across Vermont since 1999 to be the best they can be."
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.