Columbia girls program wins $10,000 grant from Pepsi

Thursday, January 5, 2012 | 8:29 p.m. CST; updated 7:05 p.m. CST, Thursday, January 19, 2012

COLUMBIA — After a month of hard “campaigning,” the Heart of Missouri Girls on the Run discovered that it had won a $10,000 Pepsi Refresh Grant.

The group is part of the international nonprofit organization Girls on the Run. This organization divides itself into councils in the U.S. and Canada. The Heart of Missouri council covers Boone County.

Half of the grant has already been awarded, and the second half will be awarded in May or June, depending on whether the council meets the goals it outlined in the proposal submitted to the Pepsi Refresh Project. Based on that, the Heart of Missouri council will use the grant money to expand its operations.

Currently, the council works with two Columbia elementary schools, Fairview and New Haven.

New planned sites for the council include three Columbia elementary schools, Midway Heights, Mill Creek and Shepherd.

It will also use the grant to sponsor girls for the program.

Girls on the Run is a learning program that teaches girls ages 8 to 13 about self-respect and healthy lifestyles using an interactive curriculum and running.

Nancy Yaeger, council director of the Heart of Missouri Girls on the Run, said it does not turn any girl away, so this grant money will be used as scholarships for girls who cannot afford the program. Each 10-week session costs $150 per person, and about a third of the girls that participated last year received scholarships. 

This branch of the national organization started in January 2011. Each school involved offers a session in the spring and fall. Fifteen girls, selected on a first-come-first-served basis, meet twice a week and end the program with a community 5k walk/run.

“It is so awesome to see the growth of the girls throughout the sessions — just to watch the girls faces, to see how happy they are when they reach their goal,” Yaeger said.

The Pepsi Refresh Project was launched in January 2010 to provide more than $20 million dollars in grants to organizations around the country. The program accepts monthly submissions online from organizations planning projects to better society.

There were seven cycles of voting in the 2011 Pepsi Refresh Project. The previous voting period ended Dec. 30.

People could text or vote online at the Pepsi Refresh website for their favorite purposed project. The winning projects receive grants ranging from $5,000 to $250,000 to implement their plan.

The Pepsi Refresh Project utilizes social media such as Twitter and Facebook to promote the program and submitted projects.

“Once we found out we were selected for the voting portion of the Pepsi Refresh competition, we emailed everybody we knew including all the other directors in the U.S. to get them to vote for us,” Yaeger said.

She said in the end it was a close race between the council and another organization, so several people involved with the group went downtown and asked people on the streets and in restaurants to text and vote for them.

Yaeger said she was happy to win the grant because the council can afford to spread to schools that have been on a waiting list and reach more girls in the community.

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