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Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2018:11:20 16:44:20

JASON FARMER / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Heart and Sole and Girls on the Run participants go for a run though South Abington Park.

Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2018:11:20 16:33:58

JASON FARMER / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Heart and Sole is a program for local sixth- to eighth-grade girls and Girls on the Run for third to fifth grade girls.

WAVERLY TWP. — Middle school girls have a new way to bond with friends, learn about goal setting and train for a 5K, thanks to a program that began at the Waverly Community House this fall.

Gretchen Henderson started the first Girls on the Run group in the Abingtons three years ago with 14 third- to fifth-grade girls. Now, more than 100 girls from schools across Lackawanna County are running, with groups hosted at several sites, including Our Lady of Peace School in Clarks Green and South Abington Elementary School.

In the fall, Henderson launched a new program, called Heart and Sole, aimed at sixth- to eighth-grade girls. That program is only available at the Comm, though it’s open to middle schoolers across the region.

Like the Girls on the Run, Heart and Sole features trained coaches leading girls through a set curriculum, including training runs, games, activities and discussions. In addition to preparing for a 5K, the participants learn to set goals, identify their support systems, be positive role models and the importance of self care, said Henderson.

“I think it’s a very good step up for middle schoolers,” said Heart and Sole participant Elizabeth Henkels, 11, an Abington Heights sixth grader. “It’s more, like, into how things really work in middle school and, like, what emotional stuff you’ll have to deal with.”

Middle school is a tough age for girls, and Heart and Sole helps them navigate this time of life, said Henderson.

It also teaches them to connect with people “outside of their immediate social circles,” she said.

“They learn that they might not sit with someone at lunch but they still have commonalities and they can still relate to them,” she added.

Abington Heights seventh grader Abigail O’Sullivan, 12, learned how to control her emotions during Heart and Sole.

Now, she takes a “pause” if she’s getting upset.

“It’s a really nice program, it helps you bond with your friends and stuff,” she said.

The running part is the least challenging part of the program for Abington Heights sixth-grader Catalina Matthies, 11. She’s already run a 10K.

“It’s cool,” Catalina said, adding she’s learned to believe in herself, be more confident and “that you can always try again.”

Girls on the Run is more about healthy living than running.

“It has a double meaning: it’s about them moving forward and taking the tools they’re learning and just running with it,” said Henderson.

Girls on the Run holds both programs in the fall and spring and Henderson said she hopes to expand Heart and Sole next year. She encourages all young women to join even if they’re not interested in the running portion.

“A lot of the girls just walk and that’s fine as long as they are just moving,” she said.

Girls on the Run and Heart and Sole cost $150 which covers everything including a banquet and the end of season celebratory 5K. Any interested third- to eighth-grade students from the region can sign up for the local groups. Scholarships, financial aid and payment programs are available.

The local chapter is also looking for adult volunteers. For more details, visit gotrpocono.org.

Contact the writer: kbolus@timesshamrock.com, 570-348-9100 x5114; @kbolusTT on Twitter