Volunteer Spotlight: Jess Peoples (a.k.a. Jumpin Jess)

By Jess Peoples, Communications Manager at Hands On Nashville-

Girls, running, positivity, cheering. It all seemed like old hat to me. So I dove right in, joined Girls on the Run (GOTR) as an assistant coach at J.T. Moore Middle School, and committed to mentoring a group of 9-year-old girls from September through December 8, coaching them along with additional coaches and volunteers to complete a real 5k (that’s 3.1 miles!). Just last week, I ran with Amazing Anajah (we give them superlatives to add that extra boost of confidence and positivity… and I am, of course, Jumpin Jess), and we completed our first practice 5k. Every girl on my 10-person team did awesome!

Jumpin Jess and Amazing Anajah after the practice 5K race – way to go, ladies!!

This experience has been challenging, yet so rewarding. The consistent commitment to connect to community and see life through the eyes of a child has grown me to be more understanding, patient, and simply a better contributor to our community. You’d think since I work at Hands On Nashville, I’d get my community fill as I work. Something is simply different about the choice you have outside of work, though. GOTR is that something for me.

The challenge keeps me on my game and my brain turning. While I love running, I’ve never had to think more creatively than when I’m with these girls. Like typical 9-year-olds, their daily feelings are worn on their sweats. Good days are blissful. Bad days, well, feel like I am pulling a fish out of the Atlantic. Asking for a little pep is sometimes intimidating, but when I finally figure out what really makes them smile, score!

Super Sam and Hilarious Hannah take a break from running to smile for the camera.

I had this vision I could be this ultra-hero and champion them onto the best life ever. Running, I know from experience, has helped me through so many struggles and has kept me healthy in my 28 years of life. What I didn’t realize was that it is more about community, more about listening. They need a mentor, a friend. Didn’t you when you were 9? Heck, I think I still do now.

Since I’m not a parent, I hadn’t thought intensely of all the delicate risks and dangers that play into the lives of 9-year-old girls. From afar, it seems so simple. But, with peer pressure, self-esteem issues, and just plain being at the wrong place at the wrong time, these girls can, and quite possibly will, encounter their own trials. That’s where Girls on the Run comes in and fills that extra bit of need. Some of these girls have already been through pain and struggle. For whatever reason, their confidence might be low and, at this age, they are desperately seeking positive reassurance and friendship. Each week, we go over lessons from a guidebook GOTR provides to us. Each lesson talks about identity issues girls of all ages continuously struggle with and have to confront in one way or another.

Head coach Jennifer, Amazing Anajah, Graceful Grace, and her running buddy Mighty M.T. after the practice 5K.

In a positive, safe, and loving way, we discuss these issues and talk about how to combat them. We practice saying “no” to the negative things of this world like peer pressure, drugs, gossip, and more. Being a Girl on the Run means being a positive leader and a good friend. Being a Girl on the Run means confidence, security, and trust.

Just when we were finishing the practice 5k this week, Anajah pulled on my sleeve. With a smirk, she reminded me that not only did she finish the 5k without walking, she was going to be an Olympic runner one day. Dreams can come true. She has goals, excitement for life, and an enthusiasm to do the right thing. She knows that this group is safe and that we all care. We want her to succeed.

GOTR is looking for more coaches to sign up for the upcoming spring season. Are you up for the challenge?

> Volunteer as a head coach.

> Volunteer as an assistant coach. 

> Download Hands On Nashville’s Holiday Guide for additional GOTR needs and other needs in the community.

> Learn more about GOTR Nashville.

Check out this uplifting video about Girls on the Run!

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