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Beauty, inside and out, and on full display in BIO Girls finale

BIO Girls is a program out to put an end to self-esteem issues that start early.

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Girls in grades second through sixth ended their 12-week BIO Girls program with a fun run through Wadena. People lined sidewalks and streets showing support.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal
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WADENA — A group of about 30 young girls raced through the streets of Wadena on Wednesday, July 20, with the confidence that they could finish what they started.

It’s safe to say that this group of young ladies is not the same group that first gathered 12 weeks ago at the start of the first BIO Girls group in Wadena. BIO stands for beauty, inside and out. The group formed in an effort to break down the figure that six in 10 girls battle with low self-esteem, according to the BIO Girls website. The girls have undergone a physical, emotional, mental change that organizers hope will stick with them for a lifetime.

They were not alone in the race. With them were women mentors from the community who have spent the last 12 weeks building them up for that moment.

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BIO Girls mentor Molly Tabery, right, runs with girls during the fun run Wednesday, July 20, 2022, in Wadena.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal

Each week mentors like Molly Tabery and Katie Polman met with the girls to talk about deep issues that can help the girls feel confident and grow self-esteem. Some of the topics included showing kindness to others and yourself, having gratitude, talking about everyone's strengths, everyone’s imperfections, friendships, knowing their value, and not giving up. The run was the finale to the program and a way of meeting the goal they had set before them.
Tabery was interested in helping out with the program because she understands the need is very real for this age group.
"I was drawn to doing it because I feel that age group, its so important to establish the self confidence and healthy relationships," she said. "Man I wish there would have been something like this for me growing up," she continued. "It's just so important at that stage in life to try to start understanding that. Things can get challenging ... and if you're learning it ahead of time and maybe being able to recognize — maybe it's not a healthy relationship, maybe you're having self esteem issues — ways to work through it in a healthy productive way is very impactful."
If the program is still around when her two young girls come of age, she is excited for them to take part in it.
Girls like Taylor Merickel and Natalie Polman were gearing up for the run on Wednesday night and looked back on the program saying that through the 12 weeks they learned things that helped them feel better about themselves.

“How to stay positive, believe in yourself, know that you’re not perfect, no one is perfect,” Taylor said.

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Taylor Merickel, front and center, smiles among the group of about 30 girls that were part of the first BIO Girls program in Wadena.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal

The girls were excited about the run, perhaps more than they were when they first heard of the goal. But growing is what the group is all about.

“It’s fun,” Natalie said.

The girls took off from the Maslowski Wellness and Research Center. As they weaved through residential areas of the community they were cheered on by adoring fans. The Wadena Fire Department, police and sheriff’s office had vehicles lining the parking lot of M State cheering the group on. A water station along the route was fit with parents blowing bubbles, shaking noise makers and others holding signs of encouragement and shouting words of support. It was hard not to feel good about what they were doing, even if it was hot, humid and tiring.

The group returned to the wellness center after completing the 5k together. It was a moment of great triumph for all.

Throughout the 12 sessions the girls take part in large group and small group sessions before finishing with a non-competitive physical activity. Journaling helps them record their thoughts each day along the way. Site directors Shelby Hunke and Monica Merickel brought the program to Wadena for its first year. Other area communities like New York Mills, Perham and Sebeka have also started this program, Merickel said.

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BIO Girls hit up the water station midway through their run on Wednesday, July 20, 2022.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal

Merickel and Tabery said they were able to see the change in girls from coming in timid and shy to finally cracking open their shells and showing confidence. While the physical aspect of the program is small, it played a big role in getting the girls to open up.

“The whole point of the race was that you can set a goal that you can meet,” Merickel said. “But that’s also when they really came out of their shell.”

Over 12 weeks they went from running a half mile to building on a little more each week. Running the full 5k was a goal that some thought was out of reach, but eventually became a reality — and a good time to boot.

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Natalie Polman, left, Ruby Petrowski and Taylor Merickel make their way down a path in Wadena on their way to completing a 5k on Wednesday, July 20, 2022.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal

Merickel said while she also would have benefited from this program as a girl, she understands that times are not the same as they were in her youth.

“We didn’t have social media,” Merickel said. “Girls are being exposed to more at a younger age.”

Bullying, unreal expectations and popularity measured by “Likes” is a whole other ball game that girls, and boys for that matter, could use help navigating. It appears this program will be working to help on an annual basis.

The organizers say this program will return in 2023. No start date has been set yet. Check in with organizers to find out how you can get involved. Stay connected on their social media sites including on Facebook at BIO Girls - Wadena, MN.
BIO Girls meet for 12 sessions, 90 minutes each. A session combines life-skills lessons, Christian non-denominational devotions, small-group mentoring, and non-competitive physical activity, according to the BIO Girls website. Girls in grades second through sixth grade are eligible to join.

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The start of the run was exciting with blasting music, balloons and cheering crowds near the Maslowski Wellness and Research Center.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal
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The BIO Girls pose before heading out on their fun run Wednesday, July 20, 2022.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal
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Clapping, cheering, flashing lights, bubbles, and high fives encouraged the runners along the course.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal
BIO Girls uses life-skills lessons, positive mentorship and noncompetitive physical activity to increase self-esteem in second to sixth grade girls.

Michael Johnson is the news editor for Agweek. He lives in the city of Verndale, Minn., but is bent on making it as country as he can until he returns once more to the farm living he enjoys. Also living the dream are his two children and wife.
You can reach Michael at mjohnson@agweek.com or 218-640-2312.
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