GirlsWith Sole ~Helping Girls Achieve Through Athletics

By Diana Simeon

Research shows that involvement in athletics can help adolescent
girls in many ways. But for girls
growing up with abuse, sports
can be a lifesaver.
That’s what Liz Ferro, executive director and founder of
the Cleveland-based Girls With
Sole, discovered growing up near
Rochester, NY. After spending
the first two years of her life in
foster care, Liz was adopted by a
family.At the age of nine, she was
sexually abused by a next-door
neighbor. “Athletics was what
I turned to,” says Ferro. “It was                                                    
my coping mechanism; a way
to channel my negative energy.
Every time I would start down
a risky path, my involvement in
athletics would hold me back”
Ferro’s personal story led to
the formation of Girls With Sole,
a not-for-profit organization
whose goal is to bring athletics
into the lives of adolescent girls
who are currently living with, or
are at risk for, any type of abuse.
Today, more than 150 girls participate in programs run by Girls
With Sole.
There are a number of organizations that seek to encourage
girls to be athletic, such asthe nationwide program Girls on the
Run. However, Girls With Sole is
unique in its emphasis on helping girls in abusive (or potentially
abusive) situations. “Many girls
who are abused end up in the juvenile justice system or hooked on drugs or alcohol,” says Ferro.

“These girls need an outlet. We want to empower them with free fitness and wellness programs.”

Indeed, studies have shown that
girlswho participate in athleticswhich include but are not limited
to team sports- have higher selfesteem, get better grades, and are
less likely to become pregnant or
involved with drugs and alcohol
than their non-athletic peers.
Girls With Sole programs
run the gamut from traditional
sports, such as running or volleyball, to more fitness-oriented
activities, like yoga. “That way,
some girls will discover their athletic strengths or identify an activity that makes them feel good
about themselves, while others
may try something they have
never done before,” says Ferro,
Girls who participate in athletics have higher self-esteem,
get better grades, and are less likely to becomepregnant or involved
with drugs and alcohol than their non-athletic peers.
who swam competitively from
age six through college and is
now a triathlete.
Girls with Sole has partnered
with several Cleveland-area agencies and schools to bring its programs to the girlswho will benefit.                                                                                                             
For example, Ferro runs a weekly
program with sixth, seventh and
eighth graders with the Salvation
Army Mentoring Program in
Elyria, Ohio, and another with
the Youth Corps program at
Cleveland’s Intergenerational
School. She also regularly works
with girls at the Cleveland Rape
Crisis Center and is exploring a
newpartne~hip with the YWCA
Her sessions include fitness, but
also activities that help the girls
envision the potential they can
achieve. “We sit in a circle and
talk about different topics, or I
give them an exercise to write in
their journals about something
they have always wanted to try,
but lacked the courage or opportunity. Then they’ve created a
to-do list,”explains Ferro.
“Girls With Sole ties in perfectly with what we want our
girls to get out of our mentoring
program,” says Dale Jones, program director for the Salvation
Army Mentoring Program.
“We’re promoting overall wellness and obviously physical fitness is part of overall wellness. It also gives the girls an opportunity to build self-esteem in a group
setting where they are surrounded by positive energy.”
Ron Harris, director of Youth                                                          
Corps, adds, “Girls With Sole
is much more than just about
the sports. It does a lot for their
psyche, and for many of these
girls, this istheir first exposure to
anything athletic.”
These days, Ferro is running
hard to keep up with all the interest in Girls With Sole. Recently,
the organization was selected as a charity of choice by the
Tennessee-based PromiseCare
Pharmacy, a mail-order prescription drug service that donates a
percentage of its profits to charity each year. And interest is
pouring in from across Ohio and
elsewhere in the United States.
Says Ferro: “I thought I would
have to bang on people’s doors to
get them to listen to my dream,
but my experience has been exactly the opposite.”