Hope for Women Magazine~ February 2013

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.

Town & Country Magazine, February 2013

Town & Country Magazine ~ February 2013 ~ Girls With Sole is featured for Longines Women Who Make A Difference Award



Fresh Water Cleveland ~ For Good

For Good

girls with sole a champion for cleveland’s troubled teens

Physical power is an important component of most any successful sports-related endeavor. However, athletics can also be used as a source of inner strength, a lesson Liz Ferro knows well.

Ferro is founder and executive director of Girls With Sole, a Rocky River-based nonprofit offering athletics programs to young victims of abuse throughout Cuyahoga, Lorain and Stark counties. Since its inception in August 2009, the program has aided nearly 500 girls. The organization offers traditional team sports as well as yoga, dance, Pilates and other wellness and nutrition activities.

“It’s an outlet for these girls to expend their negative energies,” says Ferro, whose organization brings its programming to different venues throughout the Cleveland area.

Ferro founded Girls With Sole to help girls who have experienced abuse gain self-esteem and mental strength. An abuse victim herself, Ferro used athletics as a source of empowerment when she had nowhere else to turn. Through the nonprofit, local girls have a chance to put teamwork, confidence and plain old fun into their daily routines.

“It’s an amazing feeling for them to do something physically,” Ferro says. “They can take that and use it in other areas of their lives.”

Ferro has numerous success stories among her young clients. One girl, a ward of the state in residential treatment, initially rejected Girls With Sole. Today, she’s a marathon runner and triathlete, a far better option than drugs or other unhealthy coping mechanisms troubled teens undertake.

“These kids don’t get this kind of encouragement elsewhere,” says Ferro. “Seeing positive and healthy people around them makes an impact.”

SOURCE: Liz Ferro
WRITER: Douglas J. Guth

Girls with Sole running towards a mission

(WOIO) -After years of abuse a Rocky River woman turns personal tragedy into something good for northeast Ohio kids.

43-year-old Liz Ferro is like a little ray of sunshine.

Her story starts with a dark journey through sexual abuse as a foster care kid.

This is the reason she started Girls with Sole in August 2009.

Each of the now 350 girls in the program gets a new pair of running shoes to lace up for a lifetime of achievement following the trail forged by Ferro.

“The running shoes help me to come to the light and that’s what I’m trying to show them…and it’s working,” said Ferro.

“We give girls free fitness and wellness programs to empower them and create self esteem and it’s for girls who are at risk or who have experienced any type of abuse,” said Ferro.

Ferro has run 17 marathons and done four Iron Mans.

Ferro has just penned a book about a life spent getting to the spiritual and emotional finish line.

She’s making a difference in the lives of young girls.

Click here to see article

Child Abuse Prevention Month–a ‘soleful’ organization in The Examiner

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month and Liz Ferro is putting her footprint on child abuse. Ferro’s organization, Girls with Solein Rocky River, serves girls from 9-18 years old and aims to empower girls who are at-risk or have experienced abuse of any kind.

Ferro was adopted at the age of two and was later sexually abused as a young child. Through her organization, Girls with Sole!she shares with girls how athletics and fitness helped her through challenging times and how they too can overcome. I met Ferro at an event in February where she talked about her journey. Her story was so riveting that I recently interviewed her for Child Abuse Prevention Month.

I read where you were sexually abused by a male next door neighbor when your 8 and 9 years old. Did you ever tell anyone? I never verbally told anyone about it, however, in order to get it out, I wrote some things about what was going on with the neighbor in an assignment pad that I had in my room, but never used this pad for school. While at school, my mom was in my room and read it. When I got home that day, she was waiting for me with it in hand, and she was upset with me. She asked me if it was true, and I told her that it was. Then she asked me, “Was it so important to you that you wrote it down?” (As if I was happy about it or something.) After that she told me that we would never tell anyone about it. She said that if my father found out about it, he would kill our neighbor and then go to jail. I didn’t want it to be my fault that my dad was in jail so both of us never told anyone, and went on about our lives.

Liz Ferro, Founder/Exec. Dir. (Girls with Sole)
Liz Ferro, Founder/Exec. Dir. (Girls with Sole)
Photo credit:
Liz Ferro

Why do you think it’s hard for kids to tell someone about abuse? I think kids struggle for many reasons and being dismissed, or not believed, is one of the big ones. For me, there was also a lot of shame and embarrassment. I also felt as if I had done something wrong and feared that it was my fault. My mother’s reaction to it further reinforced those fears.

To this day, have you ever spoken to the abuser? I have never spoken to him about it and actually never had to see him again after I went away to college in Ohio. He lived in Rochester, NY, where I grew up. When he was abusing me he was already retired. Recently, when I got my book published, I searched the internet for him and his wife to see if they were still alive. They are both deceased.

You started Girls with Sole! in July of 2009. What were some of the challenges you faced when starting the non-profit? I started in during the height of a recession and many people told me that it would fail. Some people even told me that I should take out the word “abuse” from the mission.

Why did you persevere? I persevered because I knew in my heart that I could not divert from our mission and that Girls With Sole! was extremely needed for a population of girls that was not being served. These girls needed someone to give them hope, strength and healing, and I couldn’t turn my back on them. I figured if it didn’t work out, and Girls With Sole! fizzled away unsuccessfully, at least I would have tried, and maybe helped a few girls along the way. But that isn’t what happened and I am so glad I listened to my heart.

How do you think Girls with Sole! will empower girls who have experienced sexual abuse?
 My hope is that they survive by gaining emotional and physical strength and high self-esteem through fitness; that they realize abuse is never their fault, and that no matter what, they can always move forward. They are encouraged to be themselves and to believe that they can do great things and achieve. It gives them the ability to cross a finish line and release painful emotions in a very healthy way.

In June, Ferro along with several girls and supporters will cross the finish line in the Team LULA 5K run in Rocky River. The race is open to anyone who wants to run and is part fundraiser, which goes toward training the girls and registering them for free. The race also coincides with the promotion of her new book, Finish Line Feeling, an uplifting memoir about her journey from foster child, to sexual abuse survivor to founder of Girls with Sole.

The first federal child protection legislation, Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) was passed in 1974.

Girls With Sole featured in CBC Magazine ~ November 2011


Thanks to triathlete Liz Ferro and her nonprofit group, Girls with Sole, local abuse victims are achieving wellness through sports

By Thomas Skernivitz

Surrounded by girls with precious few role models, Liz Ferro has no trouble sharing her story as a childhood victim of sexual abuse. Her only problem arises when those girls —more than 300 of them, divided among three chapters of Ferro’s nonprofit organization, Girls with Sole —     discover that they don’t have their hero all to        themselves.
“Each group thinks that it’s my only group of kids,” Ferro says. “When they come together and see there are others, they’re, like, in shock — ‘Oh, Ms. Liz, there’s others? I thought we were your only ones.’”

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as too few when it comes to abuse. The participants of Girls with Sole, aged 9 to 18, are literally trying to run from their past. It is not an easy task. Seventy-three percent of girls in juvenile justice have experienced sexual or physical victimization, according the U.S. Department of Justice.

Fortunately, Ferro, a triathlete who knows how to cover ground, does not mind spreading herself as thin as her runner’s build. The Rocky River resident travels once a week to each of three Girls with Sole locations — Bellefaire JCB in Shaker Heights, the Intergenerational School on Fairhill Road in Cleveland, and the Multi-County Juvenile Attention System in Canton. There she works with girls who have been taken out of foster care because their behavioral levels are too high for regular family homes.

“The crazy things that have happened to them at such young ages have already put them in that place,” Ferro, 42, says. “Even if other people aren’t labeling you, you’ve already put yourself in that mindset, and it’s really hard to come out thinking that people aren’t looking at you a certain way and thinking certain things about you. That’s why I think they embrace Girls with Sole so much because it makes them feel like normal kids again. They can be themselves and blow off steam in a healthy way.”

Ferro, a native of Rochester, N.Y., moved to Northeast Ohio in 1992. She founded Girls with Sole in 2009 after serving one year as the executive director of Wigs for Kids. Two years later she is still the only full-time employee of the organization, although she receives assistance from volunteer coaches and board members. “My two big passions are kids and fitness,” she says. “I thought, ‘What is wrong with me? Why would you not put those two things together? Those are what saved your life.’”

Adopted as a foster child at age 2, Ferro experienced sexual abuse as a child. The predator: a neighbor. The result: low self-esteem. The possible (if not probable) path: self-destruction. “I was close,” Ferro says, “but it was always sports that held me back by the scruff every single time.”

It did not hurt that Ferro could look up to her adopted parents, particularly her father, who pushed her to compete in athletics, if only to wear her out. “My dad didn’t know I was abused, but he knew I had negative energy that needed to be expended somewhere, someplace,” Ferro says. “He knew I had some talent and was very supportive of my athletics, to the point where, if I was in sports, I didn’t have to get a job after school.

“In the eighth grade I was already on the varsity swim team, and I was falling asleep at the dinner table. My dad was, like, ‘This is what I was going for. This is what we need to do with this girl.’”

Still, Ferro wasn’t immune to lapses, even as a swimmer at Niagara University. Drug use and bulimia were the usual outcomes. “Stuff happened — all kinds of crazy things I’m not proud of,” Ferro says. “But every time I tried to sabotage myself, I thought, ‘I can’t mess up my body, I can’t mess up my sports.’ And that would make me stop doing it. I quit bulimia after college and never did it again. That’s an unheard of thing. Usually you need years of therapy.”

Ferro wants that same kind of intervention for the at-risk participants of Girls with Sole. Her mission is to convince them that fitness and wellness — in the form of running, yoga, and traditional team sports, along with proper nutrition — can empower their minds, bodies, and souls. “These kids are not coming from places where fitness and wellness is a norm,” she says. “Survival mode is a norm for them or for their parents even. So they don’t have anyone showing them this lifestyle at all. To get the mind-body-soul connection on their own probably isn’t going to happen.”

“My two big passions are kids and fitness. I thought, ‘What is wrong with me? Why would you not put those two things together? Those are what saved your life.”

Compounding the problem, most of the girls, unlike their leader, who has finished 14 marathons and four Ironman triathlons since 1993, do not like to sweat, let alone run 3 miles at a time. “I don’t know if that’s a teenage thing, but they don’t embrace it. They think sweating is gross,” Ferro says. “Meanwhile, I’m always pouring, and they’re, like, ‘Ms. Liz, that is so nasty.’ It’s part of my mission to teach them that sweating is actually the opposite: That it’s a badge of honor … and that it feels so good to earn your shower.”

The Girls with Sole groups combined three times this summer and fall to compete in 5K races — the Fall Classic in Strongsville, the Believe and Achieve trail run in Kirtland, and the group’s annual June benefit, the LULA (Lacing Up for a Lifetime of Achievement) race in Rocky River.

“The counselors told me that one of the girls got in the van after a race and said, ‘I can’t believe that I had so much fun that early in the morning and I wasn’t stoned or drunk,’” Ferro says. “For them to say that is huge because you would think they’d be complaining, ‘I can’t believe I had to do that.’”

With Girls with Sole “going fast and furious,” the goal, Ferro says, is to become profitable enough to hire a paid staff. Accomplishing that will be difficult, she adds, considering the organization, with the help of corporate sponsors, is already outfitting all participants with new running shoes and sports bras. “Each kid needs a brand new pair of shoes,” Ferro says. “First of all, it’s needed. They don’t have proper attire at all. But I also love it. They’re so excited. It’s a really big deal. I’ve had kids tell me it’s their only pair of shoes. And it just breaks my heart. I could cry right now just telling you.”

And she does. The tears are earned, like one of those steamy post-run showers. And there is no shinier badge of honor than making a difference in the life of a child. “You can definitely see a huge change in some peoples’ behavior. I could see it even way before two years,” Ferro says. “But with lot of kids, you can’t follow them much longer than that because they get discharged. And that’s a good thing. That’s the point.”

But not always the end.

“We had one girl who graduated her (juvenile justice) program, but she came back for the Girls with Sole program,” Ferro says. “Nobody ever goes back to where they did their juvee time.”