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Courtney Berg leading group of girls on red running track

Girls on the Run: Helping Girls Move Forward Together.

Teaching girls they can do difficult things is important to Girls on the Run, a nonprofit that combines training for a 5K run with life skill lessons that inspire girls to dream big.

Healthy relationships and a positive self-image also matter. Founded in 2002, the organization’s St. Louis chapter today partners with 400 schools and other groups across 23 counties, where volunteer female coaches serve as role models for the thousands of third- through eighth-grade participants each year.

After speaking in early 2020 to Respect, Inspire, Succeed, Empower —known as RISE — a Commerce Bank employee resource group that helps women develop as leaders and mentors, Courtney Berg, the chapter’s executive director, felt she had found a bank that shared similar values.

“In Commerce I saw an organization that is seriously focused on elevating women,” Berg said. “The employees I met represented all ages, backgrounds and professional levels. They weren’t asking superficial questions. They were genuinely interested in understanding how we address issues like equity and access.”

“A young girl can’t be what she can’t see,” she observed. “The women I met at Commerce demonstrated what it means to be a “Girl on the Run” as a grownup. That’s what I saw at Commerce. That stood out.”

An evidence-based approach.

“Research says that a typical nine-year-old girl will say she feels good about herself,” explained Berg, a social worker by training. “But by age 16, something changes. More girls report low self-esteem, poor body image and less interest in academics and leadership.”

Girls on the Run was created to change that. Teams of girls spend eight weeks together learning about themselves and their place in their community through an evidence-based curriculum as they prepare for a celebratory 5K run.

“The 5K is the challenge,” Berg explained. “But we’re not interested in who is fastest. The 5K allows the girls use the skills they learn and practice over the eight-week program. It requires them to set goals and navigate changes. They learn what they are capable of.”

To remove any barriers to participation, program fees are charged on a sliding scale. The nonprofit depends on private funding to help fill financial gaps. “Strong girls make a strong St. Louis,” said Berg. “It doesn’t matter what ZIP Code they come from.”

Moving forward in the pandemic.

Still, the chapter faced its own financial uncertainty when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. “Because all families were affected by the pandemic in some way, we made the decision to reduce our fees by 25% and offer some form of scholarship to all girls,” said Berg.

To maintain the chapter’s nine-person staff — which would be needed to communicate with schools and volunteers, adjust presentations and take the program virtual — Berg and the chapter’s board of directors looked to the federal Payroll Protection Program (PPP).


“But when we tried reaching out to our former bank, we got no response. There were no answers, and we had been with that institution for 19 years,” Berg recalled. Then she thought of her recent experience at Commerce. She made a phone call.

“Commerce got us the information we needed before we even asked for it,” she said. “They understood I don’t have a big accounting department I can call on and made themselves available to help us through the process.”

With the help of the PPP funds, the St. Louis chapter served more girls during the past year than any chapter in North America. It also switched its banking business to Commerce.

“In many ways, we’re just like the girls we work with; we all need to be seen and heard,” said Berg. “A nonprofit needs a bank that listens and can get it the answers it needs.”

“The last year and a half were challenging, and the year ahead will be as well,” added Berg. “It can be a scary and hard time, but we were committed to serving girls, and that is what we’re doing.

Luckily, Berg is still a Girl on the Run. She knows girls can do difficult things.

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