Girls on the Run group shot

Girls On The Run: Under Their Wings

About 16 girls and several adults sat on plastic mats in a circle on the playground at Fairview Elementary School one warm spring afternoon, listening intently to what “Joking Julie” had to say.

“Do you ever think that sometimes a friend is not listening to what you say?” asked Julie. “How does it make you feel?”

Hands shot up among those in the circle.

“Angry,” said one girl.

“Sad,” offered another.

“We're going to see what that looks like,” said Julie, who with a team of coaches divided the girls, ages 8 to 11, into pairs and lined them up.

Joking Julie teaching circle of children important lesson

“Show me what it looks like when you ignore someone,” she instructed. “And partners, show me how it makes you feel.”

It was all part of a lesson called, “It Takes Courage,” which “Joking Julie” Lyons volunteered to share with the team of third- through fifth-grade girls at Fairview Elementary who have signed up to be part of Girls On The Run, an after-school program that teaches girls to celebrate their unique, healthy selves.

It's a 10-week empowerment program that culminates in the girls experiencing the power of giving by doing a community impact project and the joy of achievement, with running in a 5K event with other girls from Napa and Solano counties. But it's really more of a journey to help the girls build self-confidence, self-esteem and to learn how to make healthier choices.

When “Joking Julie” is not teaching lessons in courage, she's a pharmacy technician at NorthBay Healthcare. She teamed up with “Noble Niki” Petersen, NorthBay's director of Respiratory Services, to adopt the Fairview team, along with a trio of teachers at the school: “Lively Laura” Gay, “Laughing Lilly” Thompson, and “Dedicated Danielle” Nevins.

Every one of the coaches — and the girls — picked an adjective that starts with the first letter in their name on their first day together and have continued to use them throughout the program.

“Fairview seemed like an excellent choice, because we visit the school every December, as part of our “Adopt-a-School Program,” explained Julie. “We have a bond.”

Actually, when the call went out for volunteer life coaches, a dozen NorthBay employees raised their hands and expressed interest. After schedules were checked and a full day of training was completed, five of those interested volunteers were partnered at schools in Solano and Napa counties. In addition to Julie and Niki, Mae Diaz, Laura Oiler and Sarah Peffer were connected to schools.

“We were thrilled by the response,” said Janet Todd, executive director for Girls On The Run, Napa & Solano. “We are grateful for NorthBay's support and partnership to empower more healthy girls, particularly those underserved.”

Girls On The Run Napa & Solano is a small local nonprofit that is celebrating its 10th anniversary, with more than 3,700 girls empowered.