Meet Catherine Gregory, executive director of nonprofit Girls on the Run, a national program aimed at helping young girls deal with the challenges of peer pressure and develop a healthy lifestyle and positive self-image. Catherine has been involved with Girls on the Run since she began as a coach in Charlotte, NC, in 2002. She helped start a chapter of Girls on the Run in Delaware in 2004, and served as executive director there for four years. She has lived in Birmingham since 2009, and worked closely with community members to bring a chapter of Girls on the Run to the Birmingham area. She became executive director of the local chapter in 2012. She runs for fun and runs after her two little boys, who are 7 and 5 years old, daily. Welcome, Catherine, today’s FACES of Birmingham feature.
Where did you grow up? And what brought you to Birmingham?
I grew up in Goldsboro, a small, rural town in eastern North Carolina. My husband’s job brought us to Birmingham in 2009.
Tell us about Girls on the Run.
Girls on the Run is a character development program for girls in third through fifth grades that prepares girls to lead healthy lifestyles, while inspiring them to be powerful, confident and to pursue their dreams. Amazing adult mentors remind the girls that they are enough, just as they are. Girls on the Run gives girls the life skills and tools to tune out media and peer pressures and be true to themselves. We use a national curriculum and games and discussions that incorporate running to teach these life lessons. The girls set a big goal of completing a 5K, and as the 10-week program progresses, they are ready!
What inspired you to get involved with GOTR?
At 22, never a runner, I started walking a block and running a block and signed up for the neighborhood 5K as a goal. When I finished it, I was really proud of myself. As I gulped water and air and looked around, I noticed there were hundreds of girls at this Girls on the Run 5K, and I had to know more about how all of these girls had this chance at such a young age. When I found out it was a place for girls to learn more about how to be good friends to each other and build each other up, I fell for it. Girls, women, we all need to support each other more, and the chance to help instill this message made me sign up as a volunteer coach.
Is the program centered on running?
Ironically, no. Run is in our name, you see pictures of girls running, we host a 5K, but the program is not about running. The program is about learning to make healthy decisions and having self-respect. These key elements are what help develop strong, healthy leaders, friends, daughters, sisters and community members.
Is GOTR geared toward at-risk girls or is it for everyone?
Girls on the Run is for every girl. Girls in different communities have different peer pressures, but all girls and women feel pressures to conform, to fit in, to listen to the media messages of not-enough-ness. I think experiencing the Girls on the Run curriculum is a lot like a shot of self-confidence and support. It is a reminder that we all feel pressures, emotions, frustrations, joy, and that is just a part of life. It is how we respond and share and react that can make a huge difference in our lives.
What’s on the horizon? Any plans for expansion or new programs?
Girls on the Run has grown each of the past four years, and we will serve almost 500 girls this school year. We hope to reach even more girls next year! We are super excited to launch a middle school program, Heart & Sole, for sixth through eighth graders in the spring of 2016. The Heart & Sole curriculum was developed by Girls on the Run International to meet the unique needs of middle school girls. It is rich with themes girls can relate to, and the curriculum addresses the whole girl—body, brain, heart, spirit and social connection—while building important life skills.
Did you have any mentors along the way?
Chrissy Beck, my first boss at my college newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel. She taught me to be organized, to purge and to always look for the best in people.
What’s the best piece of advice you have been given?
Just take a baby step. This has helped me take on big or small goals, like organizing a closet or eating healthier, by remembering that I don’t have to do it all or all at once, I just need to start in a small way.
How can we as a community help GOTR?
A part of the curriculum is all about community and recognizing that you are a part of something bigger … you can give back to your community and your community cares about you. Coming to the Girls on the Run 5K on Saturday, May 9, and walking, running, cheering, supporting these girls is a huge boost for them. In addition, it is our annual fundraiser, and every registration helps us provide the program (and running shoes to those in need) to more girls.
The program is heavily volunteer-based, and we need coaches (you don’t have to be a runner). The commitment is only 10 weeks, the connections are deep and the impact is huge.
Donations are always an important way to support a nonprofit, too, and $150 can help cover a girl’s registration fee who would not be able to participate otherwise.
What advice would you give to parents/mothers who are raising daughters?
Being mindful of how you talk about your own body can have a lasting impact on your daughter’s self-confidence. She hears and absorbs more than we often realize.
What upcoming local event are you most looking forward to?
Favorite beauty product?
Favorite thing to do on a Saturday night?
I like to mix it up! Saturday night is the free-est night of the week, so it leaves room to get out and try something or somewhere new.
Favorite local restaurant?
What are you listening to these days?
Avett Brothers Pandora station and This American Life podcasts
What books are you currently reading?
Name three things you can’t live without, excluding faith, family and friends.
Sunshine, french fries and books
Thanks for sharing your story with us today, Catherine! For more information on Girls on the Run and the upcoming 5K, visit girlsontherunbham.org.
And a big thank you to Natasha Tessier for today’s gorgeous photos. Natasha is a well-known San Antonio portrait photographer, who now resides with her husband, their two sons and daughter in Birmingham, AL. See more of Natasha’s work on her website, natashatessier.com.