HIGHLAND — One by one, first season members were welcomed by friends, coaches, coordinators and the directors of Girls on the Run of Northwest Indiana Saturday morning at Redeemer Lutheran Church.

To warm up the group, executive director Jill Schlueter-Kim asked the coaches to close their eyes and think back to their childhood. The activity got the coaches to put themselves in the shoes of the age group of girls they will mentor. The women were then directed to fill out the “I am” poems which highlighted all five senses of their childhood environments.

“Empathy is the word of the year,” said Schlueter-Kim. “When you can empathize with your team of girls, it will only make you a better listener. To actively listen doesn’t come easy for everyone, but it’s something we strive for as Girls on the Run coaches.”

Everyone discussed their poems and a representative from each table talked about what they were most interested to discover.

“The one thing we noticed when you said what interests you the most, pretty much the whole table wanted hear the more negative memories, almost for the desire to make that connection,” said Kristi Sikora-Blankenship, teacher at Grimmer Middle School. “That could be why we’re all here coaching. It’s really easy to help a kid who’s happy all the time, but to consider that deep-rooted sadness in a child and try to help catch that at an early age and make good of some of that before they turn 45 and are still sad.”

The room burst into laughter once they caught onto Sikora-Blankenship’s comedic relief after her heartfelt speech.

Balloons decorated the front of the room as Schlueter-Kim announced Girls on the Run of Northwest Indiana’s 10th birthday.

“Girls on the Run is in it for the long run,” said Schlueter-Kim. “When I started 10 years ago with my first group of girls, I knew it was the start of a bright future. It wouldn’t be possible without the wonderful coaches who inspire the brilliant girls and the team behind our great program.”

The group enjoyed chicken salad, turkey and vegan sandwiches from Grindhouse Café in Griffith and walked off the food with hands-on activities.

The room erupted into applauds as development director Lauren Lauer announced that Girls on the Run of Northwest Indiana was awarded an opportunity that will have a permanent impact on the future of the organization and its goal to inspire girls across Northwest Indiana to be joyful, healthy and confident. The Porter County Community Foundation is matching dollar-for-dollar all donations made to the Girls on the Run of Northwest Indiana Endowment Fund up to $25,000 now through March 31, 2018.

“We’ve never done a huge campaign like this but with the excitement around our 10 year anniversary, we feel like we can make it happen,” said Lauer. “In fact, from one of our key sponsors and board members we’ve raised over $10,000.”

The day, which was full of laughter and new found friendships, ended with bags being donated by Thirty-One. The bags were filled with supplies for each team and given to the coaches.