UK students give their time to train young girls to take part in annual 5K


The University of Kentucky students displayed their philanthropic sides by volunteering as coaches and running buddies to train third-grade to eighth-grade girls for the Girls on the Run 5K race at Keeneland Race Course in December.

GOTR is a program for adolescent girls that inspires girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun curriculum that creatively integrates running into lessons on things like anti-bullying, gossiping, body image and how to be a positive role model, all while improving their endurance and fitness.  At the end of the season, GOTR teams from all over Kentucky join together and run in a 5K.

On the day of this year’s 5K race, UK students who spent their semester volunteering for the GOTR nonprofit organization had the opportunity to see all of their selfless work pay off by running alongside and cheering on the girls they mentored throughout the year.

“Many of the students were running buddies,” Heidi Guckenberger, the nonprofit’s coordinator for the central Kentucky region, said. “They participated in the 5K and helped encourage the girls as they ran. They also helped with registration, face painting, cheer stations and water stops.”

For many of these GOTR student volunteers, their work was a result of enrollment in UK’s CIS 112 course, a service-based learning course in the College of Communication and Information. Over 350 students enrolled in this course give back to the community by collectively volunteering for more than 40 different, mostly nonprofit, organizations, in the local community. This year, about 30 of those students dedicated their volunteer efforts to the Girls On The Run organization.

Each CIS 112 student is required to complete at least 10 hours of service for one of the service learning organizations chosen by the professor each semester. Student volunteer Maddie Romines said the mandatory hours never felt like an obligation to her, however.

“The whole experience was enjoyable and I looked forward to seeing the girls every lesson,” Romines said.

What begins as a mere class assignment for many of these CIS 112 students involved in local philanthropy work often results in long-term connections between the students and the local causes with which they work. Take Kylie Russ for example. Russ volunteered with GOTR as part of her CIS 112 class initially, but has continued volunteering for the organization for more than a year since her class ended.

“Last year, I was assigned to volunteer with third to fifth graders at GOTR at Seton Catholic School,” Russ said.  “We were required to get a certain number of hours for the class, but it did not feel like I was just ‘counting hours’ because as I committed to GOTR, I quickly fell in love with it.”

“My CIS group and I were running buddies, meaning that we ran with the girls at each practice and got to simply talk with them while exercising,” she said.  “I loved getting to know each one, and once I had formed these relationships I knew I wanted to volunteer again on my own.” Russ was recently named a “Volunteer of the Week” for the local Girls on the Run chapter.

The work done by UK students to give back to so many local nonprofit organizations is changing the efficiency in which the organizations can function, but the organizations are not the only ones benefiting from these partnerships. The partnership between CIS 112 students and Girls on the Run, in particular, is one from which everyone involved has something to gain.

“The most rewarding aspect of Girls on the Run was definitely seeing the direct impact of my time at the 5K at the end of the season,” said Kristen Snider, another CIS 112 student volunteer.

Snider ran with a girl who did not particularly enjoy running, so the pair walked most of the race and finished toward the back of the pack.

“This is what makes Girls on the Run such an amazing program; it didn’t matter that she was one of the last girls to finish. She still received the same medal and had the same bright eyes and wide smile as all the other girls,” Snider said.

Snider said the girl was so proud of herself and that was all that mattered. “Girls on the Run empowers girls to believe in themselves and to love who they are, which is a lesson that will follow them for the rest of their lives.”

Guckenberger is excited about the mutually beneficial relationship UK students build with Girls on the Run. Guckenberger added that GOTR depends on volunteers and would love for more students to be involved either through volunteering to serve as mentors for the third through eighth grade girls participating in the program or through internships available with the organization.

More information about how to become involved with Lexington’s Girls on the Run chapter can be found at