The first time Rosie Ramirez tried mountain biking, it was grueling. But she was encouraged by a group of other girls and coaches to help her get through it. Now, it’s a little bit easier each time she does it.

Since joining Girls Thrive four seasons ago, Ramirez, a sophomore, said she’s more confident in everything she does.

“It’s a safe environment,” she said. “It really just helps you grow.”

Girls Thrive was started in 2010 by Christine Thennis, a teacher at Helena High School who wanted her daughter to learn in a noncompetitive and encouraging environment. She started the organization under fiscal sponsorship from the YMCA  to inspire girls to empower themselves through sports and other educational activities. Girls Thrive started with mountain biking, running and programming on positive body image, but has since expanded.

Ramirez said she was drawn to the program since she wasn’t about winning. She said the environment has facilitated a better community and the girls feel like family.

Girls thrive is open to 11- to 18-year-olds. Now, Ramirez is one of the older girls and has learned how to become a role model for younger girls.

“As you improve, you’re able to help other people,” she said.

Now the organization is its own nonprofit, offering three eight-week programs throughout the year. On Tuesday, Ramirez and a dozen other girls were kickboxing and resistance training with physical therapists from St. Peter’s Hospital.

The girls meet three days a week and mostly run or mountain bike, but Tuesdays are usually different each week. Girls Thrive has hosted yoga, pilates, swimming and kayaking.

“Anything the girls get excited about, we’ve been able to make it happen,” Blair Haseman, executive director, said.

After each workout, the girls hear a topic of the day. Haseman said Girls Thrive purchased evidence-based body image curriculum from Beauty Redefined to talk about how to gain and maintain a positive body image. Other lessons include things like leadership or injury prevention.

Sapphire Ferguson Jetty, 13, is in her first year of Girls Thrive. She joined to exercise in a supportive environment and make new friends. In the first few weeks of the fall program, Ferguson Jetty said she’s had a chance to gain confidence in herself.

“They want you to believe in yourself and do well,” she said.

Girls Thrive has been so successful in Helena it’s looking for ways to expand. The organization added a third season last winter to take girls skiing and hiking with microspikes. They’ll be offering it again in January 2018.

The program is almost full with 19 girls, and Haseman said the organization is considering a new facility to rent.

“We know these girls keep coming back and we would love to be able to serve everyone, but right now the space is as much as we can handle for max capacity,” she said.

Girls Thrive is entirely volunteer operated. All support from partners goes into gear, putting on activities and providing healthy snacks.

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