Program Uses Female Athletes To Inspire Girls To Be More Active

By Karina Martinez-CarterThe Daily Northwestern

Every Thursday afternoon, about a dozen middle school students meet with Zochilt Suarez to talk about teen issues and exercise.

No boys are allowed.

Suarez, 22, runs GoGirlGo! for students who attend Nichols Middle School, 800 Greenleaf St.

GoGirlGo! was launched nationally in 2004 and began in Evanston last fall for students at both Nichols and Chute Middle School, 1400 Oakton St.

The program, part of former pro tennis star Billie Jean King’s Women Sports Foundation, focuses on motivating young girls to be physically active.

The girls either raise their heart rates with exercise or delve into the supplied GoGirlGo! curriculum.

The program also includes an educational component with readings about inspirational female athletes and a scrapbook with questions, such as “What song gets you excited to play sports?”

Kashana Burnett, 12, answered “Rock Dem Hips” in her scrapbook, while having a conversation with a classmate about Venus and Serena Williams.

Unlike most of the girls in the program who have been participating since the second week of school, it was Burnett’s first day at the GoGirlGo! program.

Meanwhile, seventh-grade student Cheyenne Reid, 12, has been a part of GoGirlGo! since it began during the second week of the school year.

“It’s just girls – no boys,” she said. “We can talk about more stuff, like drugs, alcohol and things girls go through. Boys would just think it’s fun and games and be annoying and obnoxious.”

Suarez, a student at DePaul University, works part-time at the Youth Organizations Umbrella, Inc., which hosts GoGirlGo! on Thursdays.

“Because it’s just girls, they get to bond with each other and really connect,” Suarez said. “We have girls who were shy in the beginning of the year and are now more active and feel more comfortable participating in activities.”

Weinberg freshman Meredith Baskies, a member of NU’s fencing team, said the girls were very comfortable when she and a few teammates visited one of the GoGirlGo! sessions to demonstrate fencing basics.

“Some of the girls had never heard of it before and they all really latched onto it,” she said. “Being with them reminded me of how excited I was when I first fenced, and it was really fun to trigger that in little girls and see them bring such a new, fun energy to it.”

Youth Organizations Umbrella, Inc., which provides a number of after-school and summer programs as well as family services, relies on a grant from GoGirlGo!’s national organization to pay for the program.

The program has applied for another yearlong grant and is still waiting for a response, Suarez said.

So far nationwide, GoGirlGo! has gotten 66,134 girls between the ages 8 and 18 to be active, according to its Web site.

Reach Karina Martinez-Carter at [email protected]