GOTR(1)

Going the extra mile

This blog shares the story of how Diakon Adoption & Foster Care staff members went the extra mile to help adoptees participate in Girls on the Run®, a non-profit program that inspires girls to recognize their inner strengths and celebrate what makes them unique.

As an affiliate council of Diakon Child, Family & Community Ministries, Girls on the Run – Lehigh Valley delivers sessions involving 10 weeks of dynamic discussions, activities and running games for girls in third through fifth grades, with each season concluding with a celebratory 5K event, completed by participants and “running buddies.”

JoAnn Carter, mother of two adoptive girls (Daysia 11, Jada 9)

My interest in Girls on the Run began when my girls brought home a flyer from Parkway Manor elementary school announcing the program. I thought it would get them off the couch and give them a well-rounded opportunity that teaches them confidence. I also thought it would be great to have the girls be part of a running team.

Earlier in the year, my oldest did very well running a Turkey Trot event. Even though my little one hates to exercise and was a little apprehensive at first, she ended up loving the program.

As parents, my husband and I supported the girls throughout the program. We provided nutritional snacks and even made cheese-stick and pretzel treats that looked like little scooters. But when it came to finding the girls a running buddy, we didn’t have anyone lined up for them.

Because the local council is sponsored by Diakon, and I adopted my girls from Diakon, I thought maybe the organization could help. I talked with the Girls on the Run program coordinator, who in turn reached out to Kathy Roach, executive director of Diakon Adoption & Foster Care. She asked for running buddy volunteers for the girls.

Crystal Wanamaker, who served as our caseworker during the foster and adoption process, felt she could not do the run, so she asked two of her co-workers, who are runners, to help out. They happily agreed.

Kristina Taylor ran with Daysia and Melissa Mulero ran with Jada. Crystal attended the event to support the girls and her co-workers, which I thought was really neat. The adoption was finalized in 2012, so the girls hadn’t seen her in a while. They were excited to see her, which added to the experience.

The race was wonderful. I was very proud of the girls. I lost my father in October, so the girls were running for their Pop and grandmother. They gave it their best shot and when they wanted to give up, they kept on going.

The support of their Diakon running buddies made this event even more memorable. They say it takes a village to raise children. It was so nice to see that Diakon continues to be a part “of the village” long after the adoption process is finished.

Crystal Wanamaker, Diakon’s Foster and Adoption Case Manager

As a case manager, I was involved with this family’s life for more than two years. I saw them on a routine basis, so when Kathy Roach emailed me about this opportunity, I was so happy. This is an emotional job, and I love it when parents keep us updated and involved in their lives.

The night of the event, I was at the finish line. I couldn’t believe how many people were there. The girls actually had multiple running buddies, so it was wonderful to see the outpouring of love and support for them.

Watching the girls and my co-workers cross the finish line was very exciting. I am so thankful that Diakon was able to be part of the event. For so long, I was the girls’ “constant.” They knew they could turn to me during a difficult time in their lives. They recognize that I am still here for them today. It means so much to me and I think it means a lot to them too.

Melissa Mulero, Running Buddy and Diakon’s Case Manager

Since I do run, I thought it was a great opportunity to be part of the program. The day of the race, which was held at the Lehigh Parkway in Allentown, Kristina and I met the girls to spend time with them before the race. The event hosted special activities that the girls could do. Both Daysia and Jada were very excited to temporarily color their hair all different colors and to apply temporary tattoos. We also met with the coaches of the team and the girls’ teachers—Mrs. Breinich and Mrs. Richenaker, who also were the girls’ running buddies. Together, we enjoyed watching a “mascot run” before the race.

During the actual 5K event, I ran with Jada in the third wave. Throughout the race, she sprinted then walked. I kept encouraging her, telling her that she was doing great and we are almost there. Her other running buddy, her school teacher, also encouraged her.

Before the race, Jada told us that her running time was 53 minutes for 3.1 miles. The most memorable part of the event was seeing her facial expression when she checked her time and realized that she had clocked in at under 52 minutes! She was ecstatic!

When I think of all the struggles these girls went through, and to see how they have bounced back, it makes me happy. I loved seeing them put forth so much effort into a wonderful program. I can’t wait to do it again next year.

Kristina Taylor, Running Buddy & Diakon’s Family Support Specialist

What a cool experience to see everyone come together and run in the heat! I didn’t know what to expect, so when I arrived, I was taken aback by the magnitude of the event. There were tons of volunteers and parents. It was neat to see the community as a whole coming together. I am so glad for the opportunity to be part of it.

My runner, Daysia, was like a little gazelle. She would sprint, then slow down. We really balanced each other out—we were like a “see-saw.” When she was slow, I encouraged her. When I was slow, she did the same for me. Together, we pushed ourselves to the finish line. Daysia sprinted the entire length of the finish line and she had a huge smile on her face. I was so proud of her. It was awesome.

Girls on the Run is more important now more than ever. With schools cutting physical education budgets and social media adding to self-image pressures, it is wonderful to have an event like this. The girls learn it’s not about finishing first. It is about feeling good about yourself.  It’s about learning healthy habits that improve your well-being.

I played field hockey in college. I have always had the mentality to stay motivated and never give up. The Girls on the Run program teaches girls to believe in themselves and to learn from even the toughest situation. Even if you are not the first or best, it’s about coming together and staying positive for one another. Our world needs more programs like this!

I’ve been at Diakon for nearly 4 years. I knew about the program, but had never helped because I am so busy. I never took the time to step out of my comfort zone. Now that I have seen the event and witnessed how Girls on the Run touches the lives of girls—including the lives of our adoptees—I want to help even more.

I understand the obstacles Daysia and Jada have faced. To see where they are today is so sweet. I feel as if I was part of their family from the beginning. I enjoyed it as much as the family. It was so rewarding. I am already looking forward to next year’s event.

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