Seeing a man and woman standing apart from the crowd at NYMA on Saturday morning, Molly Barker introduced herself to Senator and Mrs. Larkin. She told them that she was the founder of Girls on the Run, and had come from North Carolina to help the Hudson Valley Chapter celebrate its fifth anniversary.
It was a big celebration. That was obvious before you reached the campus, where the girls and their running buddies were getting ready for a 5K through the streets of Cornwall. By 8:30 a.m., traffic was backed up on Route 9W, as cars waited to make a left turn into the military academy. A long line of police and volunteers directed motorists onto a field that was packed solid with vehicles.
Most runners got out at the gate and walked to the parade ground, which for the day was called “Girls on the Run Village.” Along the way were signs of encouragement, such as “Keep running like a girl” or “Stay strong like a girl.” The organization’s goal is to help young females build self confidence while they’re having fun.
The parade ground really did resemble a village. By race time, its population must have been close to 2,000 people — mostly girls and their running buddies. One dad (obviously, a good sport) was dressed the same as his daughter, with a tutu over his running shorts.
There were stations for group or individual photos, a place to have your hair color-sprayed, and a table with pens and note cards, where girls could write how the program had helped them, and could then drop their comments into what looked like a suggestion box.
Members of the Cornwall High School Key Club were among the volunteers. They were due to operate a water station, but they assembled in “the village” before going to their post. When asked why they had made an extra stop, faculty advisor Regina Hines had a simple explanation. “This is something to be part of,” she said. “It’s beautiful.”
The 5K drew Girls on the Run branches from as far north as Kingston, and from as far west as Port Jervis. No one seemed lost, because each branch had its name displayed on a banner at the top of a seven-foot pole.
Pat and Bill Larkin had just spotted their granddaughter when they met Molly Barker, who had founded the very first chapter of Girls on the Run in 1996. She didn’t hesitate when asked why she had done it. “I was teaching high school,” she said, “and struggling with addiction. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, I thought, if we could reach girls before they face the tough decisions — if we could help them build resiliency.”
On June 18, there were hundreds of girls who seemed to have been reached.