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African American girl smiling while running through the park with her friends

Source: FatCamera / Getty

Kaylen Respress thought fifth grade was going to bring fun and games at her new school, but she found making friends was going to be harder than she thought. She felt like an outcast in her new fifth-grade class. According to CNN introverts make up a third to half of the population. Repress’ introverted personality made it hard for her to develop friendships with others and interact with the students, but a new local program changed everything for her.

Respress is one of many young girls growing up and trying to find herself. These early years of life are some that will help her develop into the young woman she wants to become. Making friends in school can be hard especially for girls. Many girls at Repress’ age do not even understand how hurtful some of their words can be, but Girls on the Run is a new program for inner-city girls to stand together as one.

“I want to have friends like everyone else and not have to worry about any dumb boys bothering me while I’m playing.,” Respress said. ” Being in this program helped me meet new friends at school, and the best part is we even get snacks and new shoes for free!”

Respress attends Girls on the Run at the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreational Center here in Atlanta, Georgia. The programs director Tahj Richardson has been a key player in making sure the girls have fun and build long lasting friendships with each other all while getting their exercise in.

“I want these girls to grow into to something bigger than what they came from, but in order to do that they need to learn that working together will make life easier than tearing each other down.”

Richardson says that she wants the girls to develop not only a healthy relationship with each other, but with their selves as well. The program endorses a lifestyle plan that promotes healthy living by encouraging healthy eating and exercise habits. Richardson says that her and the girls go over healthy eating options that will help make the transition to healthy eating easier for some of the girls. Richardson also makes sure the girls know why it is so important for them to exercise at least 30 minutes every day. She says that the early development for a healthy lifestyle will promote a longtime healthy life overall.

RELATED: What’s The Best Places To Run In Atlanta?

The program is free for girls to join and even gives the girls transportation to the recreational center from school. The program even supplies the girls with the general supplies you would need to kickstart a healthy lifestyle for free. Tennis shoes, sports bras, socks, shorts and t-shirts are just a few of the materials provided by the organization. Richardson says Girls on the Run wants all the girls to feel equal and to make sure that happens the organization goes out its way to make sure the girls all have everything they need.

“Not everyone comes from a family that can buy them sneakers and sports bras. A lot of our girls here don’t have that type of financial security at home.” Richardson says.

While the girls are having fun and building good lifestyle habits during the program’s practice time, they are also preparing for the Girls on the Run 5k race hosted at the Georgia State Stadium on November 10, 2018. Richardson says that girls are very excited and have been very dedicated to practicing their drills so that they all will be prepared together.

“If one of the girls is having a rough day we as a team make it a point to uplift and push her so that no one is left out or behind. We want everyone to be equally prepared for the race. All of the girls started together, and they will finish as one as well.”

Respress is so excited about the race that she has told all her family and they even plan to get shirts made to support her for the event.

“I can’t wait for my mommy to see me cross the finish line with my friends! We’re going to take cool pictures at the finish line and my mom said I could have a sleepover after to celebrate with my friends!”

Respress’ excitement shows how this program lightens the hearts of young girls all around the city. Individuals like Richardson are some of the people who make everything possible by believing in and having patience with the girls. Girls on the Run provides a positive outlet for inner-city girls to turn to. The actions of these leaders in the community have changed the lives of many young girls and have created friendships that will last forever.

“I just want each girl to push themselves to the limit so that they know they can achieve anything they set out to do. None of these girls have ever ran a 5k but by the end of this program they will have done something they never had before, and that alone at their age will give them motivation to attempt whatever they desire and not give up.” Richardson says.

Growing up can be hard, but with inner-city programs like Girls on the Run, the process can be much easier than it seems.

words by: Sydnee Evans

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