Elissa Broyles was nervous when presented with the opportunity to enroll her daughter in the Girls on the Run Program. At 12 years old, Kayla Stanley is full of energy, but that didn’t make her hesitant.
Kayla has non-verbal autism, and is categorized as socially and verbally impaired. But none of those things are visible when Kayla gets around her Girls on the Run crew.
“These girls are more like her buddies, they are more like her peers,” Broyles said. “And it isn’t like they want to take care of her, they just want her to come and walk with them and I think that is really cool. Its like her first set of real friends.”
“I was worried about her not liking it, or having meltdowns during it and not being able to help,” she said. “After years of watching her grow up, I know how closed minded people can be about her behaviors, so I spent a long time weighting the pros and cons.”
But her worries didn’t end there. Elissa found herself hanging around practices just in case Kayla had a meltdown. Then, in just one simple gesture, Elissa knew that Kayla was going to be okay.
“At one point she dropped her glasses, and without hesitation, the girl sitting next to her, arm raised to the teacher, reached over, picked them up and handed them back to her. Not one girl was distracted by Kayla,” Elissa said. “They didn’t stare at her wondering why she was different. For the first time, Kayla found her tribe.”
Elissa went on that season to watch Kayla blossom, entering each practice with enthusiasm. Kayla started to seek out other teammates to walk with in the gym during her P.E. class.
“She can’t tell you what a difference this program has made for her, but I can,” Elissa said. “I never expected to see a day when Kayla would be involved with an extra curricular activity, with a“neuro-typical” children, let alone be completely accepted in that environment.”
Kayla and Elissa took part in the Girls on the Run 5K at Thomas Stadium. There were amongst the 451 girls that run in the program, which represents 29 schools in six counties and nine school districts. They were joined by another 450 runners, who all raised over $9,000 for the program.