Some of the girls who participate in Foundation For Youth programs caught a glimpse of the future when some successful Columbus women met them for lunch.

The inaugural Great Girls & Wonderful Women fundraiser Wednesday brought together nearly 200 guests who had the chance to learn about FFY programs targeted toward helping girls reach their dreams.

The FFY gym was transformed into an elegant dining room where participants in the Girls on the Run and Smart Girls program were given seats among the guests and speakers.

This year, about 460 girls are in the eight-week Girls on the Run program. While “run” is in the title, Girls on the Run is about far more than finishing the 5K run at the end of the program. Available to girls ages 8 to 13, it is offered in the fall and spring and focuses on empowerment, responsibility, connectedness, responsibility and more, all through lessons that are interwoven with running.

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Each Girls on the Run participant receives a T-shirt, water bottle, running journal, an entry fee to the 5K, and medals and trophies as a participant. FFY awards an estimated $5,000 in scholarships for the program each year.

In Smart Girls, for ages 8 to 17, girls receive ongoing guidance in classes geared toward healthy attitudes and lifestyles, eating right, staying fit and more. The program includes group activities, field trips and mentoring opportunities with adult women.

Wednesday’s event was designed to be informational and transformational to increase the programs’ reach into the Columbus community, said Karina Willats, FFY resource development director.

FFY is in every elementary school in the area, but for some families the $40 cost of enrolling a daughter in Girls on the Run is too much, she said. So Wednesday’s event, and the buzz that it creates, was designed to increase funding to help those families who struggle to afford enrollment fees and to encourage more girls to participate.

Wednesday’s event raised $13,000, of which $5,000 came from ticket sales and the remainder coming from donation envelopes at tables, Willats said.

If there was any doubt that the Girls on the Run was seeking that level of support, it quickly was dispelled at the entrance to the event, where several participants welcomed guests and looked for running buddies, running coaches or $40 to support a runner in the program.

Ruth Federle, 9, explained they would all be speaking during the program later to explain how to sign up as she and her team members shook hands as guests entered FFY.

Out in the crowd, Jean Langdon of Columbus was sitting next to Martha Rains, her “little sister” from the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program.

“I think a girl has to have a dream,” she said of the idea behind the event. “They need to have a goal and mentors who can help them reach those goals.”

Bev Baker, also of Columbus, said she knew a little about Girls on the Run but was grateful to learn more about the program and the benefit for the participants.

“I hope we can extend it,” she said.

Jen Shaver, who works with Girls on the Run as FFY’s director of community health and fitness, explained the program’s philosophy but allowed the runners to explain the program. A slideshow of photos taken since the program was established in Columbus in 2008 was shown behind them on a screen.

The Great Girls & Wonderful Women program featured two inspirational women, Garb2Art entrepreneur Dawn Andrews and Sgt. 1st Class Shamiska Reese from Camp Atterbury, who talked about career journeys.

Reese, who has been teaching the Smart Girls program at FFY since 2013, was drawn to it through its goals, somewhat akin to what she practices in the U.S. Army.

The program emphasizes building character, self- discipline and teamwork, skills Reese said she has found valuable in her Army career, which has taken her on tours to Iraq and Afghanistan in 20 years of service.

She told the girls in the audience that they were all “smart girls” who were on their way to becoming great women.

Andrews told her story from the back of the gym about a journey growing up in poverty in rural Indiana to creating her own international company that features cosmetics packaged in recycled materials.

Talking about the challenges along the way, including a cancer scare and the jump to full-time entrepreneurship, Andrews told the guests that success in life comes when you simply refuse to give up and you have goals so strong that obstacles only motivate you more.

Garb2Art shares a storefront location in downtown Columbus and boasts of keeping 6 tons of recyclable materials out of landfills, instead using it to package cosmetics.

Andrews told the audience to never leave anything undone.

“Have something to believe in and make yourself do it,” she said. “All of you ladies, encourage each other and dream big.”

For more information

To learn more about Foundation for Youth programs, visit foundationforyouth.com/

About Girls on the Run

To learn more, visit girlsontherun.org.

About Smart Girls
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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.