Around the Twin Cities, thousands of young girls face substantial difficulties due to a lack of physical activity. According to the group Active Living Research, studies have shown that lower-income groups and racial and ethnic minorities have limited access to safe, well-maintained parks and recreational facilities.

In addition, children from low-income backgrounds are statistically more likely to live in neighborhoods with higher crime rates. These factors have contributed to higher rates of obesity and low exercise rates in children of these communities.

However, Girls on the Run is changing that narrative for many young girls.

Mary Uran, executive director and co-founder of Girls on the Run’s Twin Cities chapter, discovered the program in Washington, D.C., 12 years ago. After moving to the Twin Cities to finish her master’s in public health at the University of Minnesota, she was surprised to find there was no local Girls on the Run council.

She saw that young girls in the Twin Cities faced the same problems with lack of exercise as those in D.C. Since Uran started the local chapter in 2012, the program has grown from 24 members to more than 3,000.

The program has a 10-week season and is offered to girls in third through eighth grades. During the season, running is used to inspire and motivate young girls and encourage lifelong health and fitness. The girls also train for a 5K, which they run at the end of the season with a family member or friend of their choice.

The program aims to include girls from all different communities, backgrounds and family incomes. Despite some discomfort in the Somali community with girls exercising outdoors, Uran emphasized how Girls on the Run shows girls from the community “they’re welcome, whether through the images that we use, or even how we speak to what the program is about.”

According to Uran, Girls on the Run works hard to remove any barriers to access.

The group does not restrict a girl from joining because of financial difficulties. More than half of members participate in the program with some form of financial assistance.

Those in need are sometimes also provided running equipment, translated materials and help with logistics such as transportation.

Girls on the Run also supports their students in other ways. Kaylina Smith is a recent high school graduate who was awarded the group’s first Star Power Alumnae Award.

She first participated in Girls on the Run in fifth grade at Edgerton Elementary in Maplewood.

The program made a lasting impression on her.

“It showed me how important it is to work hard to reach your goals and make dreams become a reality,” Smith said at the ceremony. She will attend Minnesota State University, Moorhead this fall.