Creating Connections

Girls Go Forward helps build strength among middle schoolers

Sixth graders Romey Harenburg and Molly Rohde started their middle school experience by taking a chance and signing up for Girls Go Forward, a new after school program at Oshkosh's Carl Traeger Middle School. Although unsure what it would be like, they knew it was just for girls and involved a little bit of classroom and a little bit of outdoor activity.

Their gamble paid off in a big way. Girls Go Forward was a highlight of their school year with new friendships, connections to school staff and participation in their first 5K run/walk.

Funded by the Women's Fund, the program focused on emotional and physical wellbeing to achieve greater self-confidence and coping skills among the girls. It is part of a larger initiative by the Women's Fund to support mental health programming for both children and adults.

In the past two years, the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation has provided more than $1.4 million in support of mental health programming through the Women's Fund, Donor Advised Funds and competitive grants from Field of Interest Funds and Unrestricted Funds. Across the community, many organizations are pointing to mental health issues as the root of problems affecting all populations.

"What we know based on research is that relationships are very critical to the success of all individuals, and in middle school, when students feel connected to school
and the community, they do well."
– Heather Wolters, counselor at South Park Middle School

Girls Go Forward was highly effective at creating those relationships, especially between students and staff.

About 15 girls at each of the five Oshkosh middle schools met twice a week for 10 weeks, culminating in a 5K run/walk. The girls – wearing matching T-shirts and running shoes – were cheered
on and joined on the course by their families, friends, school staff and community members.

The event was memorable for Romey and Molly, both of whom surprised their parents with their willingness to exercise in preparation for the run. Molly's mother Roxanne says she saw her daughter come home with more and more confidence after each session. "At the run, they were all out there encouraging each other on. It was a great way for them to build one another up," Roxanne says.

"I liked meeting the older kids. It helped me make a few friends because I didn't know a lot of people."
– Romey Harenburg, 6th Grader

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