Among the many ways that a Health Center impacts the health and well-being of the people and communities it serves is by reaching outside its walls to collaborate with organizational partners and leaders. It’s truly amazing to witness all of the creative ways that Health Center staff work to help their neighbors lose weight, manage diabetes, prevent heart disease, and learn to make healthy choices.
Nicole Wisniewski, a certified physician assistant at Alcona Health Center in Alpena, Michigan, is an example of a Michigan Health Center provider who goes above and beyond her “day job” to make a difference. This year she volunteered her time to serve as a certified coach for the Sunrise Side Council’s Girls on the Run program led by Program Director Cathy Goike of Health Department 4 in Alpena.
Girls on the Run is a national non-profit organization whose mission is to inspire girls to be joyful, healthy, and confident. Through fun, interactive lessons that creatively integrate running, 8-14 year old girls build the foundation for a love of physical activity, and a lifetime of self-respect and healthy living.
Over 500 girls have participated in the Sunrise Side Council’s Girls on the Run program since it launched in 2010. Each spring, 3rd through 8th graders at 16 schools in Alpena, Montmorency, Cheboygan, and Presque Isle Counties meet several afternoons a week. As the girls run they build a strong sense of identity and learn how to give and receive support from a group, stand up for themselves in a healthy manner, and develop a healthy body image.
Each session is led by trained coaches, like Wisniewski, who guide and mentor the girls through a fun curriculum that helps them understand themselves and their importance in the community. They also learn to value relationships and teamwork. At the end of each 10-week session the girls complete a 5k run/walk, giving them a goal to work towards and a sense of accomplishment for the progress they’ve made.
“It was such a wonderful experience, not only for all the girls involved, but also for me,” said Wisniewski. “I think it’s a great way to get our younger female patients active, as well as improve their self-esteem, confidence, and hopefully stand up for someone being bullied.”
Wisniewski looks forward to participating in the Sunrise Side Council’s Girls on the Run Program again next spring, in which 150 -200 girls are expected to participate.
Girls on the Run is not your average sports program, or just another fun, after school activity. It’s changing the lives of girls across the country, including in communities right here in Michigan, like those where Alcona Health Centers is making a difference.