Empowering the Next Generation

March 2019 View more

Participants of the 2018 GOTR Southwest 5K ran 3.1 untimed miles outside the Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet.

Rebe Sckrabulis describes herself as a perpetual volunteer. Ever since high school, she has offered her time to a number of different organizations. So when a close friend asked if she would be a mentor for Girls on the Run back in 2005, she naturally said yes. Inspired by its mission to empower girls in third through eighth grade, Sckrabulis continued volunteering for the organization throughout the years, and now serves as the Chicago chapter’s executive director.

Established in 1996 in Charlotte, North Carolina, Girls on the Run is an after-school program designed to build girls’ self-esteem and confidence through life-skill lessons, mentoring, group discussions, and exercise. Participants meet twice a week during a 10-week season, where they are guided through lessons and activities designed to foster decision making, teamwork, healthy eating, and good exercise habits.

“We build the girls’ confidence and help them find their own voices. We teach valuable life skills and then reinforce it by getting them outside and moving,” Sckrabulis explains. “We know that if you want to be strong mentally, you’ve got to be strong physically.”

Toward the end of the season, the girls work together to plan and complete a community service project. And, as the name implies, the season culminates in a noncompetitive, celebratory 5K run.

As executive director, Sckrabulis oversees 15 staff members and nearly 400 program sites across Chicagoland. The Chicago chapter, founded in 1999, started as a small program with three teams of 64 girls. Today, it serves over 11,000 girls annually throughout Cook, DuPage, Grundy, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, Lake, and Will Counties—making it the nonprofit’s largest U.S. chapter. With more than half its participants living in underresourced communities, GOTR-Chicago strives to subsidize fees when needed. To do so, the nonprofit relies on donations and corporate sponsorships. “One of the things we are most proud of is that in 20 years we have never turned a girl away because she couldn’t afford it. We make sure that every girl who wants to participate can do so,” Sckrabulis says.

Beebe Elementary is one of several Naperville schools with a GOTR program. “The program has had a very positive impact on the academic growth of our girls,” principal Christine O’Neil says. “GOTR teaches them about living a healthy lifestyle by taking care of themselves, building confidence and spreading positivity to others.” Beebe’s group has posted positive messages throughout the school, volunteered during school events, and raised funds for local charities. “The girls are able to see the positive impact they have on others while they strengthen their own skills,” O’Neil explains.

GOTR’s success is well documented. According to Sckrabulis, it is one of the only youth-empowerment social and emotional after-school programs that has a longitudinal study to back up its success. According to the five-year study, 85 percent of participants improved in confidence, competence, and connection to others. Ninety-seven percent said they learned critical life skills, such as managing emotions, conflict resolution, and intentional decision making.

The runs—held at the end of spring and fall sessions in Joliet and Chicago, and each spring in Lake County—are open to the public. “If you’ve never been to one of our 5Ks, put it on your bucket list. There is nothing like seeing all these girls run—the energy, the excitement. It’s an awesome experience,” Sckrabulis says. Walking away with a cool 5K medal is just icing on the cake.

An adult volunteer paints a participant’s face.

Get Involved

As of press time, the following west suburban schools host Girls on the Run programs. For information on volunteering, donating, or starting a GOTR program, visit gotrchicago.org.
Aurora Annunciation BVM, Greenman Elementary, Smith Elementary, Steck Elementary, Wolf’s Crossing Elementary
Glen Ellyn Arbor View Elementary, Jefferson Elementary, Westfield Elementary
Naperville Beebe School, Graham Elementary
Wheaton Briar Glen Elementary
Oswego Churchill Elementary, Southbury Elementary
Geneva Fabyan Elementary, Harrison Elementary, Heartland Elementary, Williamsburg Elementary
St. Charles Ferson Creek Elementary, Wild Rose Elementary
Plainfield Grande Park Elementary
Hinsdale Hinsdale Middle School, Oak School, The Lane School

Photos courtesy Girls on the Run