A running start for Houston girls.
It’s been a year since the launch of our Community Heroes grant program. And in that time, we’ve had the pleasure of supporting four – and counting – local organizations in their quest to empower and uplift the communities where they live and work.
For a deeper look into who these organizations are, this blog series will focus on the inspirational stories behind some of the 2017 and 2018 Gexa Community Heroes grant winners and their invaluable contributions in and around the Houston area.
Running is not everyone’s favorite pastime – the sweat and sore legs certainly aren’t for the faint of heart. But if you ask the girls in Mary T Callahan’s Girls on the Run Greater Houston program what they think of running, complaints are the last thing you’re likely to hear.
According to their website, “Girls on the Run® is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to creating a world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams.” Callahan started the Girls on the Run Greater Houston program in 2001. With the help of volunteers, she formed the first site of the Greater Houston council and was able to provide programming for eight participants during the inaugural year. However, at this same point in time, Callahan was balancing being the program’s coordinator with her job as a pediatric medical assistant and, later, an athletic director at a local private school, not to mention caring for her two young daughters. And after ten years of balancing all of these responsibilities, Callahan was ready to narrow her focus a bit, with the goal of doing even greater good.
In 2011, Callahan started full-time as the Girls on Run Greater Houston executive director, a title she holds to this day. With more time to dedicate to the program, Callahan was able to put all her energy into recruitment. She attended local health advisory meetings and approached parents about becoming coaches and volunteers. As a result of her outreach, Callahan was able to grow her volunteer base to nearly 300 volunteers a season or 600 volunteers a year, allowing her to accommodate even greater numbers of participants.
Today, the Houston council is going strong. It offers afterschool programming to nearly 2,000 girls in grades three through eight, and is one of the largest councils in the country. Twice a week after school, girls come together with volunteers to play games that focus on building up their physical endurance while simultaneously offering them a space where they can learn the importance of caring for and supporting one another. And that’s not just talk. Callahan says that the girls bring their newly acquired understanding of healthy habits and lifestyle back to their families and communities. Even schools have noticed the influence of the program, noting girls who participate have demonstrated greater degrees of confidence and improved conflict management skills.
On top of the personal benefits, Callahan’s program also gives girls a way to give back to their communities through a mandatory service project, teaching them the value of community service and engagement. Callahan says the girls are given the freedom to design the service project in every respect, including choosing its benefactor and cause. This type of collaboration gives the girls an opportunity to work together towards a common goal, no doubt a lesson that will benefit them in nearly every aspect of life.
For all these reasons, it’s not hard to understand why Girls on the Run Greater Houston was one of this past year’s Gexa Community Heroes grant recipients. A Gexa customer herself, Callahan says she saw the grant advertised and jumped on the opportunity. With the $500 grant, the site was able to provide three girls with enough scholarship funding to cover their $165 participation fees. Callahan told us that the support of grants like Gexa’s and community donations are fundamental to her program. Without these sources of funding, nearly 78 percent of Girls on the Run Greater Houston participants would not be able to afford to participate.
When asked about her goals for 2018, Callahan says that much of her attention is directed towards rebuilding. Hit hard by Hurricane Harvey, both Callahan’s home and the Girls on the Run Greater Houston council office were completely destroyed. And while the loss is immense, it seems to have made Callahan even more determined to continue growing and evolving her program. By the end of the year, she hopes to have enrollment up to 2,500 girls across Harris, Fort Bend and Montgomery counties – an ambitious goal, but one that nobody is better equipped to achieve.
For more information about Girls on the Run Greater Houston and their work in the community, visit https://www.gotrgreaterhouston.org. Interested in starting a Girls on the Run council? Email Mary T Callahan at firstname.lastname@example.org.