Southern Oklahoma is home to many nonprofits, but Girls on the Run of Southern Oklahoma has been recognized as a stand-out in the state.
The organization, a nonprofit that uses physical fitness to teach young girls life skills, has been nominated as one of 24 finalists for the 12th annual Oklahoma Nonprofit Excellence Awards. As a finalist, the organization has locked in $5,000 and will be awarded $10,000 if named the overall winner. GOTROSO Council Director Erica Gay said Girls on the Run is a somewhat unique nonprofit, with its combination of character-building curriculum, physical activity and mentorship.
“It’s exciting because we always hear from our coaches, who mostly are women, that ‘I wish I had this program when I was a kid,’ or ‘I’m benefiting from this even as an adult,’” Gay said. “That we get to give that to more girls is exciting.”
Gay said she and the organization members are still considering what the money will be used for. The nominations are made by a commission of participants from across the state.
“They said we were selected not just because of our mission, but also because of the way we carry out our mission and the stewardship in which we do that,” Gay said.
She said the organization has been recognized for the long-lasting impact of their work.
“I’ve worked with nonprofits for a long time, and know that there are a lot that are doing meaningful, impactful things,” Gay said. “You can see it as a person who is part of the program. You can feel it. But, I feel like we take it a step further and can show the girls can have an experience they carry with them… In mind, body and spirit.”
A lot of the lessons focus on maintaining a positive outlook and approach to life as well as communicating in a healthy, positive way, practices Gay said anyone can benefit from.
“The curriculum gives them what we call a toolbox,” Gay said. “All the things you learned as a kid are condensed into meaningful and useful pieces and snippets of information. It empowers them to speak about discomfort.”
Skills like conflict resolution, healthy communication and setting boundaries are all in the toolbox, available whenever the student or coach needs them in day-to-day life.
“Friendships, how to choose friends and how to keep friends, they’re all life things,” Gay said. “The coaches relate to all of it.”
 The organization recently expanded its reach to one school each in Bryan and Jefferson Counties. She said she intends to keep expansion slow and steady to maintain consistency.
“Probably for just having added Bryan and Jefferson, we will focus on that area in addition to what we already have for at least the next five years,” Gay said. “We would never say no, though, to a little town in southern Oklahoma somewhere, if they have the investment in the program. We would help them make it happen, because that’s what Waurika did.”
 Gay she worked with local ranching professional Lauren Nitschke to start the Waurika chapter, which came together after about five months of planning.