Girls on the Run begin 20 minutes of laps at the Dracut High School track. SUN/JULIA MALAKIE
Girls on the Run begin 20 minutes of laps at the Dracut High School track. SUN/JULIA MALAKIE

DRACUT -- The 10 girls sat under the shade of a tree for some warm up stretches on a recent Thursday afternoon. As is common with middle schoolers, a few were restless, making strange noises and cracking jokes to elicit laughs.

The girls' coach, School Committee member Allison Volpe, asked each to come up with a goal that they could achieve that day, one that was rewarding to them.

"So if you've done like only three laps, do you think say 10 laps, or 12, is achievable at this point?" she said.

A few of the girls shook their heads no.

"Maybe it is, maybe not," Volpe said. "But, if you don't get an achievable goal, it's not rewarding."

Soon after, the group of Justus C.

The girls include, left to right, front: Hannah Volpe, 11, Faith Carbonneau, 11, Paige Ferreira, 11, Jillian Spicer, 11, Isabella Barrett, 11, Hailey
The girls include, left to right, front: Hannah Volpe, 11, Faith Carbonneau, 11, Paige Ferreira, 11, Jillian Spicer, 11, Isabella Barrett, 11, Hailey Talbot, 12, and Morgan Ruel, 11. Rear: Assistant coach Christine Lord, her daughter Danielle Lord, 11, head coach Allison Volpe, assistant coach Kristin Hayes Frohock, Kiley Green, 11, and Nina Lima, 13. SUN/JULIA MALAKIE
Richardson Middle School students took off running on the outdoor track in the Dr. Christos Daoulas Education Complex. With each lap completed, Volpe would hand a girl a popsicle stick to keep track of her progress. Helping her were two volunteer assistant coaches -- Christine Lord and Kristin Hayes.

Though the girls are encouraged to do their best, this is not a competitive track team, but a program called Heart & Sole under Girls on the Run, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams.

Volpe said she reached out to the organization to see how a site could be formed in Dracut after hearing about the program that builds life skills such as team building, decision making, and more.


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"My daughter is going into middle school, so she's going through changes mentally, emotionally, physically ... I know at this age there's some body-shaming and there's some sensitivity about how they look and feel," Volpe said earlier this summer before the program's inaugural season officially began this fall. "I just see a need for this type of program."

Hannah Volpe, Volpe's daughter, said she likes the program so far.

Isabella Barrett, 11, left, and Paige Ferreira, 11, celebrate after a completed run in Dracut. SUN/JULIA MALAKIE
Isabella Barrett, 11, left, and Paige Ferreira, 11, celebrate after a completed run in Dracut. SUN/JULIA MALAKIE

"I like seeing my best friend, Faith (Carbonneau), and running around the track," the 11-year-old said after running several laps. "I like how I get faster every time."

Faith, also 11, said she enjoys the program.

"I feel like I can accomplish a lot of things and that I'm strong," the sixth-grader said. "And that I can do a lot of things."

Faith said she felt that way before she started with Girls on the Run but that now she feels it "a little bit more."

Girls on the Run covers three areas for its participants: understanding themselves, valuing relationships and teamwork, and understanding how they connect with and shape the world at large, according to the organization's website.

Kristen Bonito, program coordinator for Girls on the Run, said the organization has sites all over Greater Boston but this is the first time it's branching into Dracut.

"We're really excited to grow into Dracut and Allison (Volpe) says it's an area where girls really need it," said Bonito. "I think that in middle school a lot of the issues are building girls' self-confidence, especially around their bodies at that age if they're going through a lot physically and really just learning how to deal with issues that come out at school and at home."

The program will end with a 5K run that the girls will participate in.

During the recent session, the girls were cheered on by Volpe, Lord, and Hayes. The coaches also took turns going around the track with the girls.

"Jog it in, jog it in!" Lord told two of the girls in an encouraging tone as they passed her on the track.

By the end of practice, most of the girls were red-faced from pushing themselves on their run or walk. They made their way back to the tall tree where they had left their backpacks. The wind whipped their hair ferociously as they stretched some more to help their muscles recover.

"I like the program. It's a lot of fun and it keeps you into shape," said Morgan Ruel, 11.

When she heard about Girls on the Run, Morgan said she knew immediately she wanted to join.

"Because I was just getting into the route of running," she explained. "And, it would be nice to like make some new friends here... and start to learn how to run."

Follow Amaris Castillo on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.