by Brendan Sample
Founded in 1996, Girls on the Run is a nonprofit program that seeks to empower young women across the nation through various running activities. Although the program has been around for more than 20 years, it has only been active in Philadelphia during the last five, with one of Chestnut Hill’s own running the division.
An 11-year resident of Chestnut Hill, Colleen Kelly Howard has served as the executive director of the Philadelphia Council since June of 2014. Howard first got involved with the program not long before becoming executive director, after one of her daughters introduced it to her.
“A few years ago, my oldest daughter wanted to participate in the program, and we didn’t have it at our school [Norwood-Fontbonne Academy],” Howard said. “So we started a team at our school, and I coached that season, and toward the end of the season my predecessor, the former executive director, stepped down. I had been staying home with my daughters for about eight years and was ready to go back to work, so it was perfect timing.”
As executive director, Howard’s responsibilities are quite numerous, to the point where she jokingly described her position as doing “everything.” Though the Philadelphia office is obviously a part of the larger Girls on the Run organization, it functions in practice as its own, independent operation, thus taking on certain attributes of the city.
“A lot of my job when I came on board was recruiting new schools,” Howard explained. “Because of the demographics of Philadelphia, pretty much our entire population of girls that we serve reflect the city’s demographics. About 70 percent of the girls come from families in need and receive scholarship support in order to participate in the program, so a huge part of my job is fundraising. Fortunately there are a lot of great foundations that want to fund sports-based youth development programs.”
Although the Philadelphia division of Girls on the Run is only about five years old, the main office has been in Chestnut Hill for an even shorter amount of time. After she initially took the position, Howard worked from her house for more than two years before realizing that the operation needed actual office space. While she considered settling in Center City, she has found Chestnut Hill to be a perfect fit for the organization.
“We definitely have been supported by the Chestnut Hill community,” Howard said. “It’s proven to be very helpful that we’re right across from a train station. I don’t think it’s as off-putting to people as having to park in the city … It’s also convenient and less expensive than Center City.”
While there are plenty of things that Howard personally enjoys about her position, such as being able to coach, perhaps her favorite thing remains being able to find ways to help young girls in need. At the end of the day, Howard realizes the importance of giving these girls a unique opportunity that they may not be able to have otherwise.
“I think, really, it’s been great to sort of connect people in the community with the girls who are participating in the program,” she said. “I just love that it’s been able to really get me involved in the community, connecting people who want to help young people and have the means to help young people in the community with the girls who actually really have the need.”
For more about the Philadelphia Council of Girls on the Run, including information on its annual 5K run and how you can help out, visit gotrphiladelphia.org.
Brendan Sample can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org