This October, Girls on the Run Vermont welcomed Rutland education specialists Tiffany Keune and Melissa Paradee to its board of directors to expand its efforts in central Vermont and bring a fresh, educational perspective to its programs.

“As we enter our 20th season of bringing Girls on the Run to Vermont’s girls and continue to grow our programming to reach more communities, we are grateful to have Melissa and Tiffany’s expertise in the Rutland region,” Nancy Heydinger, executive director and founder of Girls on the Run Vermont, said in a statement.

The addition of the two positions brings the board total to 14 members, with three representing central Vermont and the rest distributed between northern and southern offices that serve the state.

“They are amazing ladies,” said Sybil Keefe, chairwoman. “They both have strong education backgrounds and are very passionate and connected to their communities. We’re very fortunate to have their expertise to tap into.”

Paradee is a Rutland native and vice president of student affairs at College of St. Joseph. She teaches part-time at Castleton University in the psychology department. Keune is associate dean of workforce education at Community College of Vermont.

Both will be assets to planning for next season’s 5k race at Castleton University, preparations for which will begin in January, Keefe said.

“We look for board members who have a connection and an affinity for the program,” Keefe said. “Tiffany has been a longtime coach for us for Girls on the Run. Melissa has been an active member of our 5k committee and one of the committee members who really helped us move our location to Castleton University for the first time last year.”

Girls on the Run is an after-school program during which teams of young women gather together with volunteer female trainers from their community to learn how to work together, support each other and take control of their health through an experience-based curriculum and skills-based exercises culminating in a 5k run.

“It doesn’t matter which place you finish in, as long as you finish,” Paradee said.

The 10-week programs are aimed at cultivating a sense of self in young women, beginning in grade school and continuing through high school, Paradee said.

“The program is one that I wish I could have taken advantage of when I was a girl,” she said. “I would have been better off early on, because it’s such a strong curriculum, teaching joy, health, and creating strong, capable leaders.”

“To be around other girls, to do that work, and having mentors that help them, it’s a really vital piece of work during a woman’s life,” Keune said. “Many say they wish Girls on the Run existed when they were in school.”

The program began in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1996 and has since grown to 200 councils across all 50 states. It serves 3,000 of Vermont’s young women every year, Keefe said.

Most recently, Girls on the Run opened an office in Southern Vermont, and opened their northern location last year in Williston, in addition to designating Castleton University as the site for their central Vermont 5k and adding their two new board positions, Keefe said.

“We’re looking to expand our Heart and Sole program (for 6th- to 8th-graders), and we’re looking at the viability of potentially offering a summer camp program in just a few sites this summer,” Keefe said.

In five years, Keefe said, they hope to continue developing the programs to make them more accessible to women across the state, especially in more rural areas.

“To feel this success, togetherness and empowerment ... it’s a great time to be doing that work with other people,” Keune said. “As an educator, we’re setting the stage for girls for later ... we’re hoping they know they can be a nurse, a teacher or study robotics, that education in pursuit of knowledge can be embedded in them.”

katelyn.barcellos@rutlandherald.com

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