Inspiring Girls One Step at a Time

May 11th 2018

Being strong and confident is something all mothers want for their daughters. But wanting it and seeing it realized are two entirely different things. There are so many social influences that serve as roadblocks to the finish line that it can feel like a never-ending marathon.

That’s why communities need programs and mentors to help parents and young girls cross the finish line. Programs like Girls on the Run are helping girls build their confidence while enabling them to cross that finish line both figuratively and literally. It’s a lesson that Colleen Kelly Howard, the Executive Director of Girls on the Run in Philadelphia, experienced first-hand.

Colleen got involved with Girls on the Run in 2014 when she brought the program to her daughter’s school and coached her team. She fell in love with the organization and when presented with the opportunity to expand the running program to other schools in Philadelphia, she quickly jumped on board. Since 2014, Colleen has grown the program from one to nearly 50 schools in and around Philadelphia, making Girls on the Run a leading after-school program in the area.  

Colleen with her daughters Kayleigh and Ainsley

Girl on the Run is a nationwide program that takes girls in grades 3-8 on a physical and emotional journey to help them discover who they are and to realize that they can do anything they put their minds to…like run a 5K. Throughout the program girls are taught life lessons that incorporate running games at bi-weekly practices that build up to them running a 5K at the end of the program. This season’s 5K will happen Saturday, June 9 at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia. 

“The lessons taught resonate with the girls because they relate to what they’re going through,” says Howard.

One of the lessons the Girls on the Run program teaches girls is to stop and take a breather when they’re faced with conflict. The "stop, breathe, think, respond, review" lesson shows girls how taking a breath and assessing the situation first helps to better manage their problem.

“It’s about thinking first not just reacting,” says Howard.

These life lessons are ones that can help girls deal with friends as well as parents and family members. The lessons are also built into physical games to boost endurance for the 5K at the end of the session. Not only are girls figuring out how to work through problems, but they are also working towards their long-term goal.

Colleen with her Team of runners in Fall of 2015

Speaking of long-term goals, Howard says the program has plenty it hopes to accomplish. The first, happening this summer is a pilot summer camp being offered at Kendrick Rec Center in Roxborough. If it’s successful, there are plans to offer it at multiple sites in the future.

Girls on the Run also hopes to offer more scholarships.

“I think an ongoing goal in Philadelphia, is to be able to offer the program to every girl who wants to participate no matter the financial status,” says Howard.

Howard adds that Girls on the Run is also looking to offer a scholarship in the future for alumni who are applying to college.

Colleen and students warming up for a 5K

As Howard works to help Girls on the Run accomplish these goals, she’s busy juggling mom life and raising her three daughters, who by the way have all gone through the program. Howard says her work has helped her build a bond with her daughters. She says she’s fortunate enough to be able to take her girls with her to many of her work-related events.

“My office is also five minutes away from home and school. One of the best things about the job is that I can work and still get to my kids’ events,” says Howard.

When she’s not spending time with her kids or working with the Girls on the Run program, Howard finds time to do something she loves, which ironically is running!

“I love running along Forbidden Drive in Fairmount Park because it’s the best place to witness the change of the seasons,” says Howard.

While the seasons change, one thing that is certainly not changing is Howard’s commitment to the Girls on the Run program and the values it instills in young girls. After four years at the helm of the organization, today Colleen can tell you that Girls on the Run has taught her as much about herself as it has to the girls in the program.

“Going through the lessons with the girls has made me more thoughtful about how I talk with my friends and live my life as well as help me become a better role model for my girls,” says Howard

“I think the most important thing is a feeling of confidence. The girls feel they are special and unique,” says Howard. “They feel confident who they are and that’s what Girls on the Run is all about.”

That’s a lesson we can also strive to learn at any age.

Girls on the Run is always looking for volunteers to coach teams or help with the 5K, to learn more about volunteering and about programs available in your area, log on to