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03/04/2020 07:30 AM

Sharing the Empowerment of ‘Girls Coach, Girls Run’

Shown here helping 4th grade girls cross the finish line at the 2019 Girls Coach, Girls Run (GCGR) 5K Fun Run, Tara Henry (right) has experienced the empowerment of the Women & Family Life Center (WFLC) program in all of its stages—as a 4th grade participant, an 8th grade coach-in-training, and high school head coach. Photo courtesy of the Women & Family Life Center

If anyone understands the empowerment of the ages and stages of Girls Coach, Girls Run (GCGR), it’s Tara Henry. From 4th grader to 8th grader to high school senior—and now, as an intern with the program’s host organization, Women & Family Life Center (WFLC)—Tara says she’s grown up stronger with GCGR.

“I think [GCGR] is the true embodiment of a girls’ empowerment group at all ages, but specifically for 4th graders. It’s super fun, but I also think it’s a great way to start your journey toward self-discovery and self-confidence. I really feel like that’s what it does for 4th graders, and that’s what it did for me,” says Tara, who also will be coaching again this year.

The popular annual program kicks off in April for 4th-grade girls with after-school groups that meet in Guilford, Madison, and, new this year, Branford.

Interested 4th grade girls and their parents/guardians are invited to learn more about this year’s 2020 sessions, locations, times, and dates at an info meeting on Monday, March 9 at 6 p.m. at WFLC, 96 Fair Street, Guilford. (RSVPs are appreciated; call 203-458-6699 ext. 103 or email

GCGR was founded 11 years ago at WFLC by a psychologist and a licensed clinical social worker with a healthy habit: running. GCGR sessions bring groups of 4th grade girls together with mentors including 8th grade coaches-in-training and high school juniors or seniors as head coaches. The sessions include girl-empowering indoor workshops and outdoor time preparing for GCGR’s annual finale, a 5K Fun Run.

“Running is more about building a positive lifestyle, a healthy life style, and it gives the girls a way to cope when they’re stressed out,” says Tara. “Running was chosen first off because [GCGR]’s founders were runners, but also because you don’t need a lot of equipment—you can do it anywhere. There’s no social, cultural, or economic things that hold you back from running.”

Tara has the benefit of starting out as GCGR 4th grade participant, then receiving mentorship training on the program curriculum as both an 8th grade and high school volunteer.

“It reaches girls at big life changes; 4th graders going to 5th grade [when most towns] combine all of the elementary schools into middle school; 8th graders who are about to go on to high school, which is a big change; and high schoolers who are about to go on to college,” says Tara.

Working with program leads, the student head coaches and coaches-in-training take the 4th graders through GCGR’s 90-minute sessions. The curriculum and activities they share are designed to build leadership skills, bolster self-esteem, select healthy lifestyle choices, and enhance interpersonal understanding.

“They have lessons that are really structured, that help you think about things,” says Tara. “Some of them are lighter, like ‘What does a healthy plate look like? What should I be putting into my body every day?’ But we also have lessons that hit that deeper meaning, like the media lesson or the body image lesson, where we give them copies of their photos before they’re Photoshopped and after, and they can see the difference.”

Now 18, Tara says lessons like that one, which she first learned as a 4th grader in GCGR, still resonate.

“That was a lesson that really stuck with me—wow, not everything we see is real. And I think, as a 4th grader, that’s kind of your first introduction to that,” she says. “Another one that I’ve always remembered is an activity called Stacy Steel Rods.”

The self-esteem activity asks each girl to pick five positive things about them and create a rendering of their own Stacy Steel Rods.

“[She ] has five steel components of her body, and we use the steel because it doesn’t break, it doesn’t bend,” says Tara. “We tell them there are times when you are not going to be feeling great about yourself, or you’re just going to be sad in general, but you can always go back to these five steel rods that are always going to be within you and that you always are going to know are great things about you.”

An Incredible Opportunity

Tara grew up in Madison and graduated with the Daniel Hand High School (DHHS) Class of 2019. Spending her gap year as an intern with WFLC three days a week has been an incredible opportunity, she says. Tara interns with WFLC Program Director Wendy DeLuca and WFLC Program Coordinator Beth Skudder.

“It’s absolutely amazing. I love interning here,” says Tara. “They’re so kind and welcoming and also so helpful. I have seen what the other groups have been doing and what [WFLC] does to help people [experiencing] positive and negative life changes.”

Tara has seen the positives delivered by GCGR not only in her own development, but in the girls she’s mentored and coached.

“Last year one of my girls, when she first came into the program, barely uttered a ‘Hello.’ She was super shy, which isn’t a shocker to me, because I was a super-shy 4th grader as well, so I can relate to her on that level,” says Tara. “Throughout the course, she kind of evolved into herself and became way more confident.”

Tara was even invited by the student to see her in a school program in which the 4th grader made a presentation as an historic figure.

“That was really neat and really cool to see,” says Tara.

Another very cool moment of GCGR is the annual 5K Fun Run, Tara adds. This year’s run will take place in June at Madison’s Surf Club.

“All the groups from all the towns get together for our graduation 5K,” says Tara. “It’s non-competitive and a really fun finish. I love seeing all the 4th graders cross the finish line and get their medals, and I love seeing all the 4th graders, after they’ve finished, run back to the girls who still need to finish, and help to bring them in. It’s a super heartwarming experience, especially for a head coach.”

Tara expects to carry her GCGR experiences with her into the future and, perhaps, her career.

“I think Girls Coach really made me realize how much I love children, and how important it is to listen to children and give them a voice,” she says. “So I think, whatever I do in the future, it will absolutely be with kids. Because I realized through this program just how awesome it is to really connect and grow with them.”

GCGR welcomes students who identify as female including home-schooled youth and students from public, private and parochial schools. Groups meet in Guilford, Madison, and Branford. The 4th grade participant program fee is $150 (like all WFLC programs, fee waivers are available upon request). For more information, contact Beth Skudder at 203-458-6699, ext. 103 or email

Photo Courtesy Tara Henry