Good Evening, Ladies and Gentlemen. It is an honor to have been given the opportunity to speak to you tonight. My name is Brittany Taussig, and I have had the privilege of coaching fourteen seasons of Girls on the Run at two different elementary schools in two different states. I recently concluded my 10th season of Girls on the Run at Jana Elementary in the Hazelwood School District.
When I was asked to speak tonight I began to think about WHY Girls on the Run matters so much and HOW it can continue to impact more and more young women as time goes on. Throughout my eight years in education, I have chosen to make a commitment to coach a Girls on the Run team twice every single school year, once in the fall and once in the spring. Even in the midst of some incredibly unique challenges that were presented during this past season, I wanted to make sure there was still a Girls on the Run team.
Why might you ask? In order to answer that question. I need to first tell you about my WHY. WHY I continually choose to volunteer my time at the end of the long school day, when I could be at home with my 18 month old twin boys and my husband. WHY this program matters so much and WHY it makes such a big impact on my students. My WHY stems from the thousands of little moments I have had with the different teams I have coached and the fact that each of the girls that participates is in some way changed by this program. I have watched girls push themselves farther then they thought possible to beat their lap goal and complete the 5k at the end of the season. I have listened to the girls think through various scenarios in the curriculum and have heard them put themselves in other people’s shoes so they can truly understand what that other person in the scenario is facing. I have seen unlikely friendships between 3rd and 5th graders blossom and watched them encourage each other as they run. I have watched girls learn how to resolve conflict in respectful ways instead of fighting. I have watched girls learn about inner beauty and how to love themselves for what is on the inside, not what society tells them they should look like on the outside. I have listened to girls learn how to turn their negative self-talk into positive self-talk. Most importantly, each season I witness a group of girls from various backgrounds and situations come together and become a team; a team that encourages each other, looks out for each other, pushes each other to do their best, and to be their best.
Each and every one of those reasons I just shared played a huge part in my latest WHY. WHY I knew I needed to do everything I could to ensure our Girls on the Run team at Jana Elementary continued to practice even after our school shut down. On Monday, October 24th our school was shut down due to unsafe levels of radioactive contamination inside and outside of the school. Our students and staff moved to virtual learning at that time and we were informed that all before and after school activities were canceled. I knew my girls needed to practice. I knew they needed an opportunity to come together face to face and access to the curriculum and the important life lessons taught in the program. I knew my they needed some sense of consistency and a sense of normal. I knew my girls needed Girls on the Run. And, after speaking with our amazing program coordinator, the St. Louis Girls on the Run chapter made it happen. Thanks to the support of this amazing organization my girls learned that when big things happen there will always be resources to support them. The programing team helped coordinate with another local elementary school in our district so we could hold practices in person. The team helped contact all families to ask about transportation needs and practice concerns. They helped me figure out how to navigate through all the interesting challenges and logistics we were presented with considering my girls at their own house all around the area. The St. Louis chapter of Girls on the Run even took it one step further and was able to provide a van so we could offer a transportation option to working families. I was able to chaperone as we picked up eight girls from around the area who would not have been able to make it to practice otherwise due to their parents work schedule. The first time we drove the transportation route, three of the eight girls cried when we picked them up because they were so excited to be able to continue the program, and at least five more cried at some point during our first practice because they were so happy to be reunited with the friends and do something “normal.”
The entire Girls on the Run community band together to ensure my Girls on the Run team was able to continue their season in the midst of immeasurable challenges and obstacles, and for that I will forever be grateful. Not only were we able to continue our season but the community made sure it would be a season to remember. A few weeks before the 5k I received a call from our program coordinator inviting all the girls and one parent to attend the Citi Shamrock Classic basketball tournament at the Enterprise Center on the afternoon of the 5k. Tickets, transportation, and a meal were all included free of charge! Once we arrived at the game we were given a backstage, behind the scenes tour of the enterprise center, which included the Blues locker room. The girls were also given a chance to stand on the court for the national anthem and cheer on Notre Dame’s starting lineup. It was such an amazing and memorable experience. And yet somehow the community continued to support us even further. I received a call from a local Girls on the Run team in Wildwood who asked if they could prepare gift bags with encouraging notes for each of the girls to be given out at the end of the season celebration and buy pizza for the party as well. The girls were able to have the most memorable end of the season celebration and truly enjoy the last time many of them would be together before they were redistricted to five other local elementary schools after Thanksgiving break.
So, why am I telling you all this? Because I realized that I could have a million reasons WHY Girls on the Run matters, but none of those reasons would be able to happen without the HOW. HOW is Girls on the Run able to support all of these incredible opportunities, memories, and experiences? The HOW is made possible through scholarships and generous donations. See, what I didn’t share early was that out of the 27 girls enrolled on my Girls on the Run team over 80% of them received some form of financial assistance. Two students received full scholarships from a donor who knew the girls personally and knew they would benefit from the program. And over half of my team was able receive a discounted program fee due to family income. See, the families I work with do not have a lot of disposal income and have to prioritize food, utilities, and rent. Knowing that Girls on the Run is committed to ensuring access for all participants, regardless of their financial situation to incredible and so appreciated.
My hope is that during this speech I was able to share with you both WHY Girls on the Run matters so much and HOW through scholarships and donations it can continue to impact more young women in future. Thank you so much to the entire Girls on the Run community for your continual support during this past season and thank you to each and every one of you for spending your evening here tonight to support everything Girls on the Run is doing for our youth!