by Cori Hilsgen
If you are a girl in second- through sixth-grade, you might be interested in joining a new BIO Girls program coming to the area.
BIO Girls is a 12-week program for girls. Groups meet weekly for 90 minutes and include large group lessons, small group immersion activities and physical activity (which is mostly running).
However, participants do not need to be runners. They can also be walkers or a combination walker/runner.
Local residents April Ryan and Christy Gilleland are bringing BIO Girls to the Sartell area.
They said the program is about much more than running and helps boost self-esteem, teaches life skills and encourages new friendships.
As co-directors of the BIO Girls program, Ryan and Gilleland plan to positively impact the person, academic and physical well-being of area youth.
Both said they feel fortunate to have had positive role models throughout their lives, but feel far too many children will grow up without the critical asset of an adult mentor.
They strongly believe that just as one tree can start a forest, one smile begins a friendship, one step starts a journey, one mentor can show a child how much they matter.
“As I learned about BIO Girls and their mission, I knew it was something I wanted to bring to our community,” Ryan said. “I recognize the importance of having a positive self-image and confidence to navigate through the challenges of growing up. Being a site director allows me to bring the amazing BIO Girls experience and important life lessons to my daughters and their peers, helping them learn the skills and tools necessary to positively deal with the pressures and stresses of adolescence and life. I cannot think of a better way to help make a positive influence.”
“When April told me about BIO Girls, I knew I wanted to be involved,” Gilleland said. “Self-esteem is so important throughout life, creating more confidence and positive relationships. We want our young ladies to believe in themselves and push themselves to succeed. We will also help them learn effective communication skills and feel comfortable with change. I am so excited to be a part of this program.”
The 2019 curriculum for the program will include lessons on anxiety, communication skills, compassion/kindness, peer pressure and more.
During group sessions, participants will practice skills they can apply to the real world. These skills can help them maintain healthy self-esteem and navigate them through the often challenging adolescent years.
Registration will open in summer for the 12-week program which begins in September, after Labor Day to coincide with the start of a new school year. The program will end with participants and mentors running the Dec. 7 Snowflake Shuffle 5K in St. Joseph.
BIO Girls is a nonprofit organization which was started by Missy Heilman, a former college track teammate of Ryan’s.
According to the biogirls.org website, girls’ self-esteem peaks at age 9 and plummets by age 12.
Ryan and her husband, Dan, live with their three children, two daughters, second-grader Billie and kindergartner Zoie, and pre-schooler son, Casey, in Woodlawn Estates in Sartell.
She grew up in Sartell and has chosen to raise her family in the area. After graduating from Sartell High School, Ryan obtained a civil engineering degree from the University of North Dakota where she played soccer and ran track. She is currently a project manager and senior engineer with Short Elliott Hendrickson Inc., an engineering and architect firm.
Ryan said she believes the BIO Girls program will have a positive impact on youth in Sartell and the surrounding area.
Gilleland grew up in Sauk Rapids and currently lives in Sartell. She does not have children, but has been involved with organizations to help enhance the lives of area youth for more than 20 years.
These include Distributive Education Clubs of America, Junior Achievement and the St. Cloud school district Elementary Pen Pal Program.
As a St. Cloud Rotary member, she has worked with the Warm Hands, Heads and Hearts program and Summertime by George.
Gilleland graduated from Sauk Rapids High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in business management from St. Cloud State University. She owns and operates Gilleland Chevrolet Cadillac with her brother, Grant, in St. Cloud.
Gilleland has lived in Sartell since 2001 and said she believes healthy communities begin with healthy youth.
The two chose Sartell as the BIO Girls program’s location because they both live in the area and attend St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church together.
However, the program is open to all girls in Central Minnesota who would like to join.
There is a $65 cost/per girl to join the Bio Girls program. This includes the 12-week program, 5K race entrance fee, a BIO Girls T-shirt and BIO Girls journal.
BIO Girls has a scholarship program, so all girls have a chance to participate.
Registration is limited to 35 participants. If more than 35 girls register, a lottery process will be used to determine who can participate.
In addition to the participation fee, Ryan and Gilleland also need to raise $3,500 and recruit 10-12 adult mentors for the program.
BIO Girls tries not to turn girls away from participating, so Ryan and Gilleland encourage other people to make a difference by starting additional BIO Girls sites to offer a bigger impact on the area.
To learn more about the program and how to donate to the program, information can be found on the Sartell location Facebook page at facebook.com/BIO-Girls-Sartell-MN-376030493135851/.
If interested in starting additional BIO Girls sites, visit the website at biogirls.org.
Author: Cori Hilsgen
Hilsgen is a contributing reporter for the Newsleaders. The central Minnesota native is a wife, mother and grandmother. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Organizational Management and Communication from Concordia University – St. Paul, MN and enjoys learning about and sharing other people’s stories through the pages of the Newsleaders.