Jenny Paul: Running Girls the Right Way

Jenny Paul is the Executive Director and Founder of Girls on the Run Central Arkansas.

Raised in El, Dorado, Arkansas, Jenny Paul began to chase her ambition of becoming a doctor at Louisiana State University, where she ran track and cross country in addition to her studies. Although she returned to Arkansas to attend UAMS, it was only a matter of time before she was back on the road, this time training in Pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa. In 2010, she finally settled in Little Rock, practicing as a Pediatrician at Little Rock Pediatric Clinic. Jenny’s husband shares in her passion in medicine, working as a general surgeon with the Surgical Clinic of Central Arkansas. They have three daughters (7, 5, and 3) who attend Urban Garden Montessori.

In 2012, Jenny left her career as a Pediatrician to pursue her two passions full-time: Motherhood, and Girls on the Run. In the spring of 2013, she was approved to establish a Girls on the Run council in Central Arkansas. We were delighted to have Jenny answer a few questions about Girls on the Run and her volunteer involvement with this non-profit organization.

“What is Girls on the Run?”

“Girls on the Run (GOTR) is a physical activity based positive youth development program for 8-11 year old girls that demonstrates to each participant the power that she holds within. During twice a week practices over a 12 week season, each team completes a standardized curriculum with three main areas of focus: understanding ourselves, valuing relationships and teamwork, and exploring how we connect with and shape the world at large.  Each lesson also includes a physical training component that works to prepare our girls to complete a 5k run/walk at the end of the season. The standardized curriculum ensures consistent messaging, but since each team is composed of unique individuals that drive conversations and activities, every team has a special experience. Over the course of the program, girls will develop and improve competence, feel confident in who they are, develop strength of character, respond to others and oneself with care and compassion, create positive connections with peers and adults, and make a meaningful contribution to community and society.

“How did you become involved with Girls on the Run?”

“I learned about Girls on the Run several years ago while spending the summer in Charleston, South Carolina.  I read a short article on the program and immediately knew it was something I wanted to be involved in. That fall, I returned to medical school in Little Rock. However, there was not a GOTR council established in Central Arkansas, so I postponed my hope of becoming involved.  I saved that article and would come across is occasionally, but due to my training and work in medicine I was never in a position to become involved.  Upon our return to Little Rock in 2010, I was disappointed to learn that Central Arkansas still did not have a GOTR council, so in 2012 after the birth of my third child, I stopped practicing as a pediatrician and applied to bring a Girls on the Run council to Little Rock.”

(read her personal statement here: http://www.gotrcentralark.org/blog/226/a-look-back)

“We know that Girls on the Run has a lasting impact on its participants. How has GOTR impacted you personally?”

“I cannot begin to count the ways GOTR has impacted my life.  Individually, it has stretched me to learn so many new things and develop different skills.  I have also been introduced to so many passionate, giving people in this community who believe in the importance of not only teaching but showing each child that they matter.  I have been given the gift of seeing our girls and our coaches grow through the program.  The competencies developed through Girls on the Run are applicable at any age.  In fact, many of our coaches believe they get as much-or more-out of the program than the girls do.  I use several of the strategies I’ve learned as a Girls on the Run coach daily.

Girls on the Run has become part of the culture of our home, and I’ve introduced several GOTR strategies to my family.  When I jumped into this project, no one anticipated how consuming it would be, but almost immediately it became part of our family.  At first my daughters identified it as ‘mom’s thing,’ but as they’ve gotten older and some of their friends have participated, it’s become something ‘cool.’”

“What has been your favorite thing about Girls on the Run so far?”

“There really are so many things to love about Girls on the Run.  The more you learn about the program, the more enamored you’ll become.  I can’t think of any other activities that address the importance of caring for one’s whole being in such a fun and meaningful way.

All of my most meaningful moments involve our participants, but if I had to pick one experience that I know I will remember forever it would be our very first 5k in the fall of 2013.  It was the first time I-as the one leading the entire thing here in Little Rock-“got it.”  That was the first time I realized what this can really mean for some girls.  Every GOTR 5k is meaningful and memorable, but seeing our first team be successful as individuals and as a team is the moment that I realized exactly how special this is and that I am so very fortunate to be a part of it.”

“Is there anything else you would like to share about Girls on the Run?”

“If I could share one thing about Girls on the Run, I would want to make it clear that Girls on the Run is for every girl.  Every girl will find the part of Girls on the Run that speaks to her.  Truthfully, this program may not dramatically change the life of every girl that completes it, but I am confident it changes every girl at least a little and encourages her to be proud of who she is without any qualifications.  It seems that there is so much pressure for children to excel in the classroom or in sports that we often forget to celebrate who they are now. Girls on the Run does that. We encourage each participant to challenge herself and strive to make her best choices, but we also remind her to recognize how amazing she is right now.”

The GOTR 5k is open to anyone!  Any runners or walkers in the community can participate in the timed GOTR 5k that begins at 9:00 AM on May 16th at Two Rivers Park. Unique awards will be given to the top male and female finishers.  The certified course is flat and fast, and the energy is unparalleled! To learn more about GOTR, or to register for one of our events, visit http://www.gotrcentralark.org/race/92-girls-on-the-run-5k.

If you are interested in coaching an upcoming season or volunteering at our 5K, visit http://www.gotrcentralark.org/get-involved/volunteer.