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Empowering Girls: Interview with GOTR Coach & Board Member

Turquiose rectangle that reads "Empowering Girls: Interview with GOTR Coach & Board Member Melissa Todd. White GOTR Union County logo on the bottom right and an image of a woman with curly hair and pink dress smiling

In the dynamic landscape of youth development programs, few initiatives have made as profound an impact as Girls on the Run (GOTR) Union County. Combining the joy of movement with essential life skills, GOTR has empowered countless young girls to embrace their potential and pursue their dreams. Today, we are thrilled to introduce you to a remarkable individual who has not only dedicated 19 seasons to coaching, but has also taken on a pivotal leadership role as a member of the GOTR Board of Directors.

Meet Melissa Todd, a passionate and seasoned coach whose unwavering commitment to the mission of Girls on the Run has transformed the lives of numerous girls. Coach Melissa has been a source of inspiration, guidance, and support, helping young participants build confidence, develop resilience, and cultivate a love for physical activity. Her journey with GOTR exemplifies the profound impact a dedicated mentor can have on the community.

Melissa has expanded her influence by joining the Girls on the Run Union County Board of Directors, where she brings her invaluable experience and insights to the strategic direction of the organization. In this interview, we explore her motivations for joining the board along with the challenges and triumphs she has encountered as a coach.

Whether you are a fellow coach, a parent, a Union County community member, or someone inspired by stories of dedication and leadership, this conversation promises to offer rich insights and heartfelt reflections. Join us as we celebrate Coach Melissa's remarkable contributions and gain a deeper understanding of what it means to lead, inspire, and uplift the next generation through Girls on the Run.


Melissa, how did you learn about Girls on the Run?

We moved to Charlotte from the Greensboro area when my oldest daughter was a rising 2nd grader at Weddington Elementary.  As we were getting to know the kids, family, and community, I learned about this “amazing” program that my daughter “had” to sign up for.  I was clueless but it sounded like a fun way for her to become involved socially and so I signed her up….and she loved it!  


When did you get started at Girls on the Run?

I joined the GOTR family the following year (fall 2014) when we were re-districted from Weddington Elementary to Antioch Elementary.  It was my daughter's 4th grade year and they needed coaches for a M/W team so I nervously signed up after being recruited by two current coaches from the T/TH team…and I have been pretty much coaching ever since!


What was your first season like?

Like I mentioned, I was nervous but had a fellow first-timer co-coach and we had a blast navigating the curriculum together.  I fell in love with the girls and the program.  


How has your experience changed over time?

My experience with GOTR has evolved over time from a nervous new coach who volunteered for an after school activity to a seasoned coach who embodies the mission of the program and promotes the continued growth of individual girls as well as the growth of the program within Union County.  My love and passion for GOTR brought my journey to the next level in 2021 when I joined the Board.  Being surrounded by and working with others who have similar passion for GOTR has been an incredibly rewarding experience.  

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Is there any particular memory that stands out?

We recently had a girl participate on our team who was homeschooled.  Her mom dropped her off for each practice and although she participated she was extremely quiet and shy and required prompting/encouragement.  The other girls always included her during lessons and when running, but she was still quite reserved.  Well, I was fulfilling my role as a board member during the Spring 5k (all of my girls had parents/running buddies so I didn’t run) when the first of the runners started crossing the finish line.  All of a sudden I see this sweet girl RUNNING towards the finish line at full speed.  I literally dropped everything I was holding and ran to the finish line with tears in my eyes to congratulate her.  That smile was PRICELESS!  A short while later she approached me with her father and asked to take a picture with me.  THIS is why I coach….to see girls realize their potential.  


Do you have a favorite lesson?

This is a hard question as I see the value and enjoy all lessons.  However, the one that I always pops in my head is the lesson pertaining to Star Power.  In my opinion it is the foundation to the curriculum as it teaches girls how to activate and enhance their Star Power AND activate and enhance the Star Power of those around them.  I just love the visualization activity that we walk the girls through in the lesson and how they become empowered to battle things like negative self-talk.  I also love that this lesson teaches them that it is okay to ask for help when they can’t illuminate their own star.  Overall, it is just a great lesson to help them understand that they have the power within themselves, which leads to self-confidence.


How do you think others could benefit by being a coach or volunteer?

The pure joy in helping young girls realize their potential and build their self-confidence is priceless.  Like I mentioned earlier, when I first signed up to be a coach I figured I was fulfilling a need for a vacant volunteering position for an after school activity.  Yes, my daughter loved her experience with GOTR but I still didn’t fully understand the program.  That changed quickly when I began coaching.  The connections that coaches/volunteers make with these impressionable girls and the growth that they help to foster is extremely rewarding.  Knowing that you are serving girls in 3rd through 5th grade who are in the midst of a critical developmental timeframe that is filled with navigating friendships, emotions and conflicts is both fulfilling and gratifying.  Coaches essentially help the girls create a toolbox that will support them through life and that kind of benefit is immeasurable.   


Is there anything else that stands out in your mind that you'd like to share about your experience(s) with GOTR?

Over the years I have had several girls who participated in all 6 seasons of GOTR (Fall and Spring of their 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade years), which is an absolute gift. I watch them grow, I watch them embrace and internalize the curriculum, and I watch them become “big sisters” to the younger, first timers.  I have also been afforded the opportunity to bear witness to the development of lots of friendships.  But, what really stands out is when a parent reached out to me at the end of her daughter’s 6th grade year to let me know of the impact GOTR had on her child.  She shared with me that her daughter had a fabulous first year in middle school and when she asked her how she did it the girl replied, “I owe it to GOTR.”  When the mom wrote to me she said she had no idea how impactful the program was and expressed immense gratitude.   Being in the moment during the lesson/season with the girls is one kind of special….but seeing the long term effects elicits all the feels!  


Without thinking about it too hard, what is one word you'd use to describe what it feels like to be a GOTR coach?

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We inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running. Non-profit girl empowerment after-school program for girls.

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