201707-bio-girls-iw-063By Marci Narum  | Photography: Photos by Jacy

Nine-year-old Norah Walker doesn’t like to quit. The Bismarck fourth grader loves to be part of any activity, as long as she can be with her friends. She’s in volleyball, basketball, dance, and swimming. But Norah discovered this summer that she’s not a fan of running, so she was willing to give up her spot in a popular girl’s program that involves running three to four times a week.

Norah is one of 35 girls who joined BIO Girls, a 12-week program for second through sixth grade girls. It uses Christian-based curriculum to teach faith-centered life skills and build confidence in young girls. There is also physical training; the girls and their 10 female mentors will complete a 5K together at the culmination of the program in September.

“At the very first session we asked the girls to name a goal,” explains Valerie Woeste, who organized the Bismarck BIO Girls program. “Some said they wanted to run a mile without walking, some just wanted to complete a 5K, some didn’t know what a 5K is. Some want to run the entire thing without walking. It’s really staying true to your own goals and not measuring them against someone else’s.”

BIO Girls stands for “Beautiful Inside and Out.” Missy Heilman of Fargo founded the program which has quickly spread across parts of North Dakota and Minnesota and continues to be in demand. The Bismarck BIO Girls filled within minutes and had a waiting list.

“I think the ages we serve with BIO Girls is so important,” says Valerie. “When they go into middle school, it’s so easy to get lost in the crowd, to maybe conform to what others are telling them they should do or just losing sight of that inner confidence. If we can get them early and start instilling that if you like ice skating and your friends like basketball, it’s okay—you can still be friends. But stay true to what you want to do.”

Kelli Neigum, a volunteer mentor for BIO Girls has two grown daughters, ages 19 and 21.

“I think it’s great. I wish there would have been something like this when they were younger. Something to get them involved and talk openly and encourage each other,” she says.

Encouragement and positive energy flow abundantly as the girls gather for their fourth week. The theme is Fill a Bucket and Timed Mile. The Bible verse for the week is 1 Thessalonians 5:11—Encourage one another and help one another, just as you are doing now.

Mentor, Brandy Currie begins the session by reading a book to the girls: “Have You Filled a Bucket Today?”

“Everyone carries an invisible bucket,” she reads. “When you fill someone’s bucket, you fill your own bucket too.”

A bubbly eight-year old Amaya Fleckenstein says being a bucket-filler is like having ‘magical happiness’ all the time.

“You have to have lots of courage in yourself and try to give lots of compliments to whoever you can find,” she says. “Even if they look different or they’re mean, you should still be nice to them. No matter what.”

“We want to really focus on teaching these girls that beauty means something different to everybody but that it’s not just about what you look like on the outside but what is written on your heart by God; following your dream and staying true to who you are,” Valerie explains. “I think that is what stems from confidence and that is what we are trying to really instill in these girls, that even though you and I don’t look the same you’re beautifully, fearfully, and wonderfully made by God. He made you different for a reason.”

On the track afterward, the girls train for their 5K. They run in groups for their timed mile—but it is not a competition between runners. Each girl is taught to challenge herself and encourage the others in their personal goals. And they do. There are high fives, cheers, and clapping from girls waiting their turn as runners complete another lap.

“They don’t have to be the one to take first place in the [5K] race but even just being able to complete it is what matters,” says BIO Girls mentor, Tricia Becker. “It’s not about who’s the fastest or slowest, it’s more about growth within themselves.”

Norah’s mom, Michelle Walker says it’s what makes BIO Girls so special—and why Norah never did give up her spot. She says Norah has blossomed in BIO Girls.

“She never really wanted to quit,” Michelle says. “She loved the curriculum and the kids. After getting encouragement from Valerie to stay with it, she got excited. The mentors tell the girls all the time, ‘do what you can.’ So the encouragement makes such a difference.”

Norah says she likes running now. Her workouts also include walking and riding her bike. She felt confident about completing the timed mile and the upcoming 5K in September.

“A lot of people cheer each other on and I think that’s pretty cool,” Norah says.

“I think they’re at such a critical age to learn how important it is to build each other up and how that makes you feel,” Michelle adds. “And being a bucket-filler, being there for your friends, understanding real beauty.”   

See more photos of the BIO Girls by Photos by Jacy here.