Women Who Inspire : Liz Ferro of Girls With Sole
By Marie Cauley
Imagine being a young girl, full of life, imagination, and possibilities. The entire world is before you; your future seems bright. You dream of what you will do when you grow up-excited to discover what’s next.
Then imagine that a stranger – or even someone close to you – does something horrible. You are physically, sexually, and/or emotionally abused. Suddenly, the world doesn’t look wonderful. You start thinking you can’t trust people, or you must be worthless because if you were a good person, this wouldn’t have happened. It could be a single incident or a series of them over time. There are physical and emotional scars that threaten to derail the life you dreamed of. You shut down or lash out, sometimes alternating between the two. How do you get back your life and future?
Liz Ferro has been there. As a girl, she suffered trauma and sexual abuse, experienced the roller coaster of emotions, and needed a way to lift her up. Out of her childhood, Girls With Sole was born. She is the founder, also serving as Executive Director, and actively pursuing fundraising and programs in order to give the girls what they need for success.
Liz graciously took time out of her busy schedule to talk to Hope about Girls With Sole – how it all started, what lies ahead for the organization, and why this is so important for the girls.
HOPE: Please tell us about the Girls With Sole mission. What does your organization do?
LF: Our mission is to use free fitness/wellness programs to empower the minds, bodies, and souls of girls who are at-risk or have experienced abuse of any kind. Our vision is a world where every girl thinks of herself as an athlete, inspired and nurtured in mind, body, and soul to achieve her fullest potential and innermost success.
We partner with social service agencies, schools, juvenile attention facilities, hospitals, and residential treatment centers to bring free fitness/wellness programs directly to girls ages 9-18 where they are. We don’t have our own facility and aren’t a counseling service, which is why collaborating with organizations who have both, but might be missing the physical outlet and mind/body/soul component, makes for the perfect team. Our program partners change throughout the year, but currently the Girls With Sole Program partners are: Boys and Girls Club of Lorain; MetroHealth; Merrick House; Lorain County Board of Mental Health; Guidestone; Bellefaire JCB; The Intergenerational School; and the Multi-County Juvenile Attention System. GWS offers a variety of fitness/wellness programs, including yoga, dance, and traditional team sports to girls who need someone to believe in them, so that they may believe in themselves. Many of these girls would otherwise have no place to participate in sports or group exercise in a safe environment. Focusing on healthy living, good nutrition, exercise, and wellness helps the girls gain self-esteem and make healthier choices in other parts of their lives.
HOPE: What made you decide to start Girls With Sole?
LF: GWS developed out of my life experiences, combined with my passion for athletics, fitness, and helping kids. The first two years of my life were in foster care, and after four different foster homes and some trauma in those homes, I was adopted by a great family. When I was nine, I was sexually abused by a next-door neighbor. I didn’t get the support needed at that time, so in an effort to handle my negative energy and anger, and to feel better about myself, I turned to athletics. There I found strength, self-esteem, and a feeling of purposefulness. As an adult, it’s my personal mission to share this discovery with young women who might not find it on their own. It’s a coping mechanism that’s actually quite good for you, teaching resiliency and perseverance needed in all aspects of life.
HOPE: Could you share a few details of what your childhood was like?
LF: I was a tough little kid. I rebelled against all authority and had anger outbursts that could frighten the toughest felon on death row. Trust wasn’t something I gave easily; the wall I built around myself was iron-clad. On the flip side, I had exuberant amounts of energy, acting in a spontaneous and hyper manner. My mom was asked to withdraw me from Girl Scouts; my guidance counselor told me I wouldn’t make it into any colleges. Often, people told me I was crazy. I think deep down, I was always happy by nature but from childhood until about age 25, I had to fight against myself, battling with feelings of self-hate and worthlessness. Childhood was a dichotomy of bright sunshine and dark, torrential storms. Athletics helped me learn, giving me strength to keep going, no matter what.
HOPE: You wrote a book that came out in September. Could you give our readers an idea of what it’s about and where it can be purchased?
LF: It’s called Finish Line Feeling, available on Amazon and Kindle. It’s a unique, uplifting memoir that tells my journey from foster child/sexual abuse survivor, to founder of the nationally recognized Girls With Sole. It describes how to gain joy and fulfillment through athletics, reminding us to believe in ourselves and our dreams. The book can be a little gritty, but it’s mostly humorously told. It’s proof that with resiliency, anyone can have that “finish line feeling.”
HOPE: What does GWS provide for these young ladies and how do you raise the money necessary?
LF: We provide them with fitness/wellness programs, free running shoes, sports bras, water bottles, and fitness journals. Girls With Sole also sponsors them to run in 5K races, triathlons, and other events. It brings new life experiences to the girls that empower and support them. We do fundraisers (including a 5K). We receive corporate support from companies like TJ Maxx, PPG Industries, Wells Fargo Insurance Services, and others through financial grants. In addition, we’ve received foundation grants from the Cleveland Foundation and Akron Family Foundation. We also bring in funds with individual donations; partial proceeds from my book, Finish Line Feeling also benefit GWS. We have tremendous support from local businesses, like Second Sole in Rocky River, who donates shoes and much more for the girls. Running clubs like Cleveland West Road Runners donate proceeds from the races they put on.
HOPE: How do running/sports empower the girls?
LF: It’s a very powerful feeling to cross a finish line or achieve a physical goal. It gives them confidence to overcome obstacles and learn to be leaders.
HOPE: What is LULA?
LF: Lacing Up for A Lifetime of Achievement. It’s our tagline (registered/trademarked) and name of our annual 5K race and fundraising/racing team. Find out more at http://girlswithsole.wpengine.com/team-lula/.
HOPE: You currently serve the Cleveland area, and the girls really appreciate everything GWS does for them. Are you planning on launching additional chapters?
LF: We have a business plan in place to be a national organization by 2020. It will take time since we’re still only three years old. Once we can handle it financially, we plan to expand to chapters in other cities.
HOPE: If someone’s interested in starting a chapter in their city, what should they do?
LF: I have a chapter application and can send information to interested parties. Many people have seen me in national publications, on our Facebook page, or found my email on the website. They contact me and ask about starting a chapter where they live. We aren’t at the point financially to pay Executive Directors here in Cleveland yet, so we can’t pay people to run GWS in other cities yet either. But I believe that day will come soon!
HOPE: How can individuals/organizations donate and help?
LF: At www.girlswithsole.org, there’s a PayPal button. People can join Team LULA, do races for GWS, and create fundraising pages. Spreading the word by liking us on Facebook and following our blog is also appreciated! We love when people get word out about the book, too; it furthers our reach and helps financially!
To learn more about Liz Ferro and Girls With Sole, please visit the GWS website. You can also order her book Finish Line Feeling there, and sign up to help or donate.
Marie Cauley is a freelance writer who also pens inspirational romance with hopes of soon being published. Her interests include health, music, dance, spinning, and Pilates. You can also check out her blog http://www.mtclosetowin.blogspot.com where she writes about faith, fitness…and the connection between them.