Helena High School junior Katie Summers only moved to Helena about a month ago.
Before moving, Summers had an old mountain bike, but she couldn’t find anybody to go with.
Now just a few weeks into her Montana life, Summers has put in several days of biking with the group Girls Thrive.
“Coming here and being able to do this with them was really cool,” she said.
Open to 11- to 18-year-old girls, the after-school and weekend program aims to build the confidence of young women and get them outside.
“The value of this program is enabling girls to see … what they’re capable of,” Christine Thennis, one of the program’s founders said.
Thennis first launched Girls Thrive in 2010, because she thought it was great there were groups like Helena Dynamos, a youth cycling club, but realized some inexperienced young women wouldn’t feel comfortable enough to join that group. So she created an atmosphere where they wouldn’t feel intimidated.
The seven-week program runs twice a year, once in spring and once in fall. On Wednesdays, the girls gather together outside the Y at 4 p.m. and spend the next hour practicing running techniques. Each Saturday, the girls gather and spend the day mountain biking and working up to trails the girls feel comfortable on.
Each week also has a theme meant to teach the young girls leadership skills.
Last Wednesday, Blair Haseman, one of the two program leaders and the running coach, gathered the girls in a circle.
“What do you girls know about teamwork?” she asked.
“You use teamwork in everyday life, work, careers,” Summers answered.
The girls bounced around the circle, discussing teamwork and how to provide constructive criticism.
At the end of the short discussion, they broke off into teams of two for relay work later in the practice.
For the past several years of the program, Thennis didn't do the running component, but when Haseman joined the team this year the group brought it back. Now Haseman is working the girls toward a concrete goal -- they each have the opportunity to run in the Governor's Cup at the end of the program.
Thennis said there hasn’t been much change in the program since it started in 2010, and a lot of the girls have been repeat members. Eventually, they hope to build in a peer mentoring aspect for the girls who return to the program.
So far not enough girls have signed up for the program that Thennis and Haseman have had to put a cap on group numbers, but they figure they’ll need to limit it to about 15 if the numbers get too high.
The fall program will start around the same time as school, and interested girls can find out more from the website, girlsthrive.com. The cost is $68 for YMCA members and $75 for those who are not members. Thennis and Haseman are volunteers so they said all the funds go directly to the program.
Phoenix Mulgreen, a 15-year-old freshman at Helena High School, heard about Girls Thrive through the outdoor club at HHS. She said running gives her a feeling for freedom, so she decided to join the program.
“It really lifts you up,” she said. “After a long day of school you just get to go do something relaxing.”