Girls on the Run of Southwest Indiana is starting a new program for middle schoolers this fall.

Heart & Sole is an after-school club for sixth- to eighth-grade girls; it will start Oct. 5.

This will be the first time the local Girls on the Run organization has held a fall program, though the international Girls on the Run organization has had Heart & Sole programs in other areas.

Due to COVID-19, this will also be the first time the entire program will be done virtually.

“We’ve never done a 100% virtual program before,” said Sarah Leonard, executive director of Girls on the Run of Southwest Indiana. “We are so fortunate that amazing people who know the ins and outs of third- through eighth-grade girls have figured out how to still provide an effective program for girls that can keep them moving in spite of all that's going on.”

Heart & Sole will have a similar layout as Girls on the Run. But the curriculum will cover topics that are specific to middle schoolers. “We talk about the connection between the brain, the body, the heart, the spirit, and your social connections within your world,” Leonard said.

The program will also encourage the girls to help take charge of the sessions. “The middle school girls learn leadership development,” Leonard said, “where they get to make decisions on how the structure of the session works and what is most relevant to them. And they kind of get to lead it and the coaches are more in a facilitative role.”

Some of the life skills the program focuses on are team building, setting boundaries, asking for help and developing a support system. Those topics are touched on in Girls on the Run, but the intensity of the focus is different in Heart & Sole. “It’s really addressed for that middle school girl,” Leonard said. “The activities are for sixth- to eighth-graders, versus the younger set.”

Just like in Girls on the Run, the Heart & Sole girls will meet with their team and coach twice a week. Because of the ongoing COVID-19 virus, those meetings will be held online through Zoom.

Virtual programming will include physical activity and social-emotional learning, providing girls with an opportunity to still build meaningful connections with their peers and caring adult role models. Volunteer coaches will receive the training and materials required to provide girls a safe, trauma-sensitive space to learn valuable life lessons and be active. The coaches will meet with their team of girls online twice a week.

“Each girl has a journal at home, and they walk through the activities spelled out in the journal, and are supported by the coach," Leonard said. "So the coach will walk them through the life skill for the day and talk to them about that. It's still structured how we would do it in person.”

That includes talking about the theme for the day, doing a game or activity to encourage physical movement. “And so you're still moving, and you're still in front of the screen. We talk and warm up and stretch, and discuss things,” Leonard said. “So the girls are still having real time interaction with their teammates and with their coaches.”

An activity card is also being used to encourage the girls to be physically active even if they don’t have the actual space to run at length.

“Maybe their yard is a different size and they can't run around their whole yard. Or it’s not safe for them to be outside,” Leonard said. “[With the activity card] they're doing the activity in their home. They can still do the 20 minutes of activity that gets them moving and gets their heart rate going.”

All of this is incorporated into the journal.

“Our staff and coaches are ready to bring critical social-emotional programming to Dubois County girls at a time when they need it the most,” Leonard said. “We have adapted based on the recommendations of local health officials and decisions of local governments and school districts. Our virtual program makes it possible for girls to stay active despite the pandemic.”

Girls on the Run, which is for girls in grades three through five, will continue to be held in the spring; a session of Heart & Sole will also be held in the spring.

For information or to register for either program, visit Girls on the Run of Southwest Indiana’s website at