Cocktail dresses with sneakers were the perfect pairing at the Girls on the Run Sneaker Soiree, which raised $16,600 for groups of girls throughout the state on Sept. 12 at Grace in Portland.

“Girls on the Run is an after-school life skills program for girls that addresses physical and emotional well-being,” said Development Coordinator Deb Megre. “I love seeing how the girls grow over the 10-week season and become strong, confident young women. At the end, there’s a celebratory 5K with everyone wearing bib No. 1 and receiving a medal. Last year, we supported 1,500 girls, and this event provides scholarships for girls in need and expansion to northern and western parts of the state.”

Currently, girls in 12 Maine counties meet twice a week for 10 weeks – in fall, spring or both – for an hour and a half of life lessons, running games and community impact projects.

“We basically use running as a metaphor for life – you set a goal, you work toward it and then you accomplish it,” said board member Michelle Drucker. “We can really see the impact on the girls making a difference at such a critical time in their lives before those interesting middle school years.”

“I’ve watched friendships grow and watched personalities, confidence and character grow,” said Meg Smith, a Realtor and runner who has coached girls at Falmouth Elementary School for four years.

Coaches Liz Tully and Elizabeth Lupien volunteer with girls in South Portland. “We want our kids to be lifelong runners, too,” said Tully, who coaches at Dyer Elementary. “It’s something you do forever.”

“You don’t need a team, just sneakers,” said Lupien, a coach at Small Elementary.

A highlight of the soiree was the presentation by former Girls on the Run participant Emma Young, an eighth-grader at Cape Elizabeth Middle School who has had a pacemaker since she was 6. She talked about her first Girls on the Run 5K, saying, “The whole experience from photo props, having my hair sprayed pink, running with Mom, to crossing the finish line was such a perfect celebration of all the hard work and growth that had taken place through Girls on the Run.”

Amy Paradysz is freelance writer from Scarborough. She can be reached at [email protected].

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