A group of happy girls swarmed around plates of fruit.
They eagerly placed grapes and sliced strawberries, melon and banana on wooden skewers.
The fruit was their healthy reward for an afternoon of hard work following school at Sharon Elementary.
The dozen or so girls are part of more than 350 across Forsyth, Hall and Cherokee counties who make up Girls on the Run.
The program encourages girls in third-fifth grades to learn to make “healthy choices” through a series of 24 training sessions. The sessions prepare them to run a 5K, said Sharon Elementary coach Liddie Palumbo.
“But it’s about so much more than just running,” she said. “I like to say the running is just a benefit. It’s more about building self-esteem, learning to stick up for themselves and making healthy choices.”
Each afternoon, the girls take part in about an hour of training, which includes running as well as other games and activities.
“We do a lot of talking about things that impact them like bullying and learning how to stand up for themselves,” added fellow coach Julie Lawrie. “It’s mostly about gaining confidence.
“They’ve all gotten very comfortable with the group and sharing with each other. They’ve told us some very personal things.”
All the participants of this year’s fall session will run their celebratory 5K on Nov. 12 at Lambert High School.
The public is invited to watch the girls compete or run with them.
A second 5K will be held in the north end of Forsyth next spring for girls who take part in that session.
Cathie Brugnoli, executive director of the local program, said the public is also invited to bring cookies and monetary donations for Treat Our Troops, a nonprofit that sends cookies to troops overseas.
“We’re doing that as our community service project for the year,” Brugnoli said.
Those interested are asked to package cookies in twist-tie bags with six cookies in each. A suggested donation of $2 per dozen is also asked to help offset shipping costs.
Those who run with the girls will receive a T-shirt and goody bag, Brugnoli said.
The Sharon Elementary girls are eager to show off their skills.
“I hadn’t been running at all [before this program], but now I can run about two miles,” said participant Emma Symonds, a fourth-grader.
Besides running, she said she also enjoys the other aspects of the program.
“I’ve made a lot friends and I like the games we play and getting to talk about different things to make our lives happy,” she said.
Added Ally Hall, also in fourth grade: “I like it because you get good exercise and it’s a good program. We’ve all become really good friends.”