So, another one of my Instagram girl crushes is Liz Ferro, the founder of Girls With Sole, who has always struck me as such a powerful, put-together, caring person. I had the chance to “chat” with Liz and find out more about Girls With Sole.
Tell me about the mission of Girls With Sole and why it’s so important.
Girls With Sole is a nonprofit organization based in Cleveland, Ohio whose mission is to use free fitness and wellness programs to empower the minds, bodies and souls of girls who are at-risk or have experienced abuse of any kind. We envision a world where every girl thinks of herself as an athlete- and is inspired and nurtured in mind, body and soul- to achieve her fullest potential and inner most success.
Since its founding in 2009, Girls With Sole has utilized the proven power of fitness and sports combined with a unique curriculum of self-esteem building activities and art projects to instill confidence, self-esteem, physical strength, teamwork, and a passion for success in the lives of more than 1,000 girls and young women in Northeast Ohio. By partnering with schools, social service agencies, juvenile detention facilities, and hospitals, Girls With Sole reaches girls aged 9 to 18 whom otherwise would not have access to sports and fitness opportunities, and therefore, a healthier body image and self-esteem.
All girls served by Girls With Sole participate in a comprehensive curriculum that exposes them to a wide variety of sports and fitness activities, that include, but are not limited to running. Each of our youth receives free running shoes, sports bras, water bottles, a fitness journal, and entry into at least two 5k races per year. They also receive a free copy of Finish Line Feeling, a personal memoir written by Girls With Sole founder, Liz Ferro, a survivor of child sexual abuse who found hope, confidence and healing through fitness. The impact is both measurable and invaluable – girls whose newfound confidence, strength and hope translate into academic success, leadership, a sense of belonging, and the satisfaction that comes from setting and reaching ambitious goals.
What makes Girls With Sole uniquely effective is that it introduces health and fitness into the lives of underserved girls through the lens that fitness should always be introduced to everyone – as an accessible, healthy, fulfilling part of life that we all deserve to experience, not a competition for elite athletes to win. Crossing the finish line of a race (or any personal finish line) is not about outrunning others; rather, it’s about getting the most out of oneself. These critical concepts of fitness and health promotion are at the heart of Girls With Sole’s message and our programming. As a result, the girls we reach learn to love fitness, not just for the way it makes them feel physically, but also for the way it makes them feel mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually. What the girls learn from Girls With Sole naturally spills over into other parts of their lives, including academics and family and social relationships.
How has your organization pivoted during the pandemic?
Things have changed a bit during the pandemic in terms of being able to conduct programs in detention and residential centers. We also are still up in the air about our school-based programs. We are doing more specialized and small group “field trips” such as Stand Up Paddleboarding, etc. We are also forming partnerships and sponsorships with William Sonoma and Hyland Software who are helping us conduct some online programming and fund our field trips, as well as help support the new fundraising campaign…Hope is the tip of the Iceberg. (I will run a marathon in Antartica for GWS as an awareness and fundraiser.)
Share one or two of your favorite “success” stories of the impact Girls with Sole has.
Many of the girls have come so far and have left residential treatment or foster care and credit Girls With Sole for saving their lives and instilling them with the self-confidence and self-esteem to succeed. They have gone to college or secured amazing jobs…some have started healthy families of their own. Many of them come back to me and want to give back by volunteering and supporting Girls With Sole. We also have a young lady who went to University of Michigan and started a chapter on campus there.
What’s next for Girls With Sole?
We have secured a partnership with Cleveland Family Center for Missing Children and Adults and Strongstyle Training Center. During a missing person event, the amount of stress can be overwhelming and confusing. Studies show that physical activity can reduce the stress and improve mental fitness. We are constructing a two step approach that would allow for a structured format to gain emotional and physical strength during the time the person is missing and then upon recovery of the missing person.
Maintaining a structured routine and having a mentor like Girls With Sole is vital to setting an appropriate and healthy tone to the recovery and reunification process.
How can we get involved and help the organization?
We can always use help in spreading awareness about what we do for the girls…..in mind, body and soul. We aren’t a running club, but the tools we provide for perseverance, optimism, wisdom, energy, esteem and resilience definitely helps the girls to Lace Up for a Lifetime of Achievement.
We need help in raising funds, and spreading the word about both the Girls With Sole books (available here and here), which are inspiring for anyone to read, and proceeds go to the organization. They are available on Amazon and also Library Tales Publishing.
We also need volunteers for a 5K race in Gates Mills on November 8th called the Hot Cider Hustle!