Pink tutus get team energized for May 4
Empowering 10 pre-teen girls for a 5K race is no small task. No one knows that better than three, twenty-something women who outlasted peer pressure and adolescence a little over a decade ago.
This week, the three AmeriCorps members who serve the community through Harris County Department of Education’s Cooperative for After-School Enrichment line up at the starting block with their inner-city girls clad in pony tails and pink tutus. All are equipped with enough self confidence and exuberance to run a marathon.
In actuality, the goal of self-empowerment is already met before the running team meets to conquer the 5K Girls on the Run race Sunday, May 4 in southwest Houston.
“We have a passion for empowering these young girls and teaching them about positive body image and self-esteem,” said CASE AmeriCorps member Angela Spencer, 28. “We have seen a lot of great and amazing growth from the girls. They have come out of their cliques and have bonded.”
CASE AmeriCorps provides opportunity for 36 members to teach underserved students in after-school programs throughout Harris County, said Lisa Thompson-Caruthers, CASE director. Members are rewarded for their service with stipends and tuition reimbursement. Established curriculum is taught through hands-on service projects ending with a culminating event. The lessons from the international nonprofit “Girls on the Run” provide the 12-week training which culminates with the 5K race.
“We saw the need for young girl empowerment at our site and joined Girls on the Run as an additional responsibility above our AmeriCorps service duties,” Spencer said.
Training has not just been physical. The two-hour stints include positive drills that praise the merits of positive energy and downplay negativity. Optimistic, image-building adjectives are whispered from one team member from the gaggle of girls during a relay race. Each training ends with two girls being heralded by “energy awards.”
“How are you feeling?” yells Allison Bott, a 26-year-old AmeriCorps member launching into jumping jacks and lunges as she warm ups with the girls.
“We feel great,” the tribe of young runners yells.
Aaliyah Jones, 8, is the youngest in the bunch, but she doesn’t lack stamina and enthusiasm.
“It makes me feel good when people are being nice and saying encouraging things,” said the second grader. “It should happen everywhere and you should be full of joy and have people around who are energizing.”
Practices occur two times a week at the M.D. Anderson Family YMCA in northeast Houston, the service site assigned to the three CASE AmeriCorps members. Last week the team decided to make pink-and-purple tutus to show their team unity. That team-boosting perk may also help fuel the extra adrenalin to cross the finish line.
For Virginia Garcia, 11, who is entering into her teen years, the training has been life changing.
“Before, I thought that mean girls were cool and I thought that I had to be like that to have fun,” she said, using her wiser-than-years philosophy about being popular. “Now I know that I don’t have to change myself in order to be popular. Once I came here to train, I learned how to lead instead of follow.”
AmeriCorps member Kimberly Holman, 33, knows that wherever life leads these 10 beautiful, intelligent girls, they have a kick start with positive self-esteem.
Jones, the youngest runner, voices the benefits of positive reinforcement most eloquently: “If you feel sad, what do you think about? You can think about rainbows and butterflies.”
About CASE AmeriCorps: AmeriCorps is a national service program administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency. One Star Foundation administers the program in Texas. For more information about serving in the CASE AmeriCorps program, go to www.afterschoolzone.org or call 713-696-1331. Service includes fulltime and summertime opportunities.
About HCDE: Harris County Department of Education provides education services to the general public and 25 school districts throughout Harris County and beyond. Services include adult education, programs to promote safe schools, after-school programs, therapy services, professional development for educators, special schools, alternative certification for principals and teachers, Early Childhood Intervention and Head Start programs. We offer purchasing procurement, grant development, program research and evaluation, records management, and school finance support. Since 1889, our services continue to evolve to meet the needs of our education public. Visit us at www.hcde-texas.org.