BIO Girls: Empowering the Next Generation

bio girls

So many non-profits are having to cancel their spring fundraising events. Often a major source of revenue, the cancellation or change of these events are hitting our non-profit community hard. They are having to come up with new and unique ways to fundraise, and transition their in-person events to online platforms. 

BIO Girls (BIO = Beautiful Inside and Out) originally had planned their annual “Find Your 5k” race for May 16th, and are now taking their efforts online for a Virtual 5k. Rather than cancel the fundraiser, Founder Missy Berg Heilman decided to transform their event and encourage the community to rally together and run together (even if it’s just in spirit). 

I took the time to interview Missy about the mission and history of BIO Girls, as well as talk to a Site Director and BIO girl herself. I hope their story inspires you to take part in the Virtual 5k on May 16th! (Register by May 6th!)

Missy Berg Heilman (Founder of BIO Girls) and Dr. Victoria Lau (Mentor)

Missy Berg Heilman, BIO Girls Founder

How did BIO Girls come to be?

I started BIO Girls in 2013 as a program through our church, Olivet Lutheran. I had a desire to pay it forward in honor of some important mentors in my life who helped shape who I am today. 
 
I started dreaming about what it would look like if I were to start a larger mentoring program. I knew I wanted to incorporate NON-COMPETITIVE physical activity because of the mental and physical health benefits. I’ve been a lifelong runner, and running became a part of my life because of one 5th grade gym teacher that encouraged me to join the track team. She left our school after that year, and has no idea the impact that one little suggestion had on my life. Track opened so many doors for me, gave me a sense of pride and purpose, paid for the majority of my college tuition, and helped me find my people. 
 
As a mother of 3 girls, I am very sensitive to the cultural expectations placed on females and wanted to help girls understand their worth should come from within, not what everyone else thinks or expects. And that is how BIO Girls was born.  
 
BIO Girls became a 501c3 in 2015, and our growth has been tremendous. started out with 3 locations that served 100 girls, and have grown to 53 locations that serve over 2,000 girls.  

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part for me is my role as a Site Director at Olivet Lutheran, working with 40 girls for each 12-week session. I see “my girls” growing in confidence, taking risks, setting big goals, building solid relationships, spreading kindness and leaving the 12-week session understanding a bit more about what makes them beautiful. Not just physically beautiful, but beautiful on the inside. THIS IS MY WHY. I truly LOVE working with our participants.  
 
It is also humbling to realize the vast number of women who share in the vision of BIO Girls. While I was the spark that started this movement, there are thousands of women that have had a role in reaching the 7,000+ participants we’ve had over the past 8 years.  It is very rewarding to know that we want the next generation of adult women to be confident enough in themselves to take big risks, step into leadership roles, and deny the cultural expectations that make girls believe the most important thing about themselves is their looks (which, by the way, usually happens by 6th grade). 

What are the future plans for BIO Girls?

We will continue to grow our impact throughout the upper Midwest, and right here in our community. In 2020, we will impact 500+ girls in Cass/Clay counties, but we know we have the opportunity to impact more. Therefore, we will continue to diversify our programming by offering non-running physical activity.
 
In 2020, we are piloting dance, yoga, CrossFit and golf. If the outcome of those programs proves to be consistent with the running programs, we will look to expand these offerings. In addition, we are working to offer our curriculum to organizations that offer youth programming in an effort to meet girls where they are (rather than expecting them to come to us). Finally, our goal is to launch a BIO Girls teen program so that we can offer self-worth programming for girls ages 7 – 18. 

Any words of wisdom or inspiration you can give a young lady?

Don’t let failure (or the thought of it) get in your way. Failure is a point in time, not the end point. Embrace it and grow from it. Successful people have ALL failed at some point, but they’ve gotten back on their feet and were stronger because of it. If you can learn to use failure as your ally, you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. 

What is the most challenging part of running a non-profit?

Every morning that I drive to work, I pinch myself to ensure it is real and then thank God for the opportunity to fulfill this mission. Our impact has grown quickly, but it really has taken a solid 8 years to get to this point. For me, the most challenging years were when I was still working full-time as a Director of Marketing for a professional services organization while being a wife and mom to three girls AND running BIO Girls in my “free time.” 
 
BIO Girls’ growth accelerated when we received a grant to transition to being employee-managed. Once this occurred, there were more opportunities than challenges for our organization, but if I were to share what keeps me up at night it would be these things: big goals limited by employee capacity, maintaining the integrity of the program as we grow, safety of our participants when our sites are facilitated by 700+ volunteers, and a persistent question from some people, “What costs so much?”
 
In response to the last concern, people tend to believe that non-profit often means free. We have expenses just like a for-profit business: utility bills, salaries, rent, insurance, in addition to the programming costs. Without this infrastructure there is no BIO Girls program. One of the best anecdotes I heard when transitioning to the non-profit world was this: people fail to realize a non-profit is equivalent to a for-profit business with one exception – there are no shareholders, so any profit at the end of the year is used to further the mission (expansion of existing programs or introduction of new programs), not to pad wallets.
 
I hope this doesn’t come across as defensive. In fact, the intention is the opposite. We are proud to be transparent about our budget as our results are proven: our participants experience a significant INCREASE IN SELF-ESTEEM and to us that is worth every penny!  Thank you to our advocates, volunteers and supporters who believe in our mission and make our programming possible! 
 

Melanie Holsen, Site Director

Pictured: Melanie Holsen (Trinity Site Director) and daughter Addison (also a BIO Girl)

How did you become a part of BIO Girls?

My oldest daughter Emma was a BIO Girl at the Olivet site. I heard about this amazing program through a good friend who’s daughter was in it. I thought, “WOW, a program designed just for girls that teaches them that they are each unique in their own way. A program that will teach these young girls to stand up for that she believes in and that failing is ok.” Once my oldest daughter aged out of the program she became a Jr. Mentor for Trinity- Moorhead. It’s been nice to see her blossom into a very kind-hearted young lady.

I’ve also had a set triplet girls go through the program, with one of them still in it today. The other two had some conflicts with other activities, or they would be in it again as well. It’s so rewarding to watch my little ladies take in all that BIO Girls has to offer.

I am a mom of 4 girls. I want my girls to know their self-worth, have confidence and the social skills to navigate through friend issues and bullying. I want them to understand and cope with feelings of stress, anxiety and nervousness and take healthy risks. Watching this all unfold in front of me made me want to take that extra step and step out of my very own comfort zone and take on a site of my own. 

What is the driving force for you as a Site Director?

I want every girl to know their self worth, I want to be a positive role model for girls. I want to be the listening ear to help a girl work through her feelings or issues verses bottling them up. I want to be the biggest cheerleader for each girl as they accomplish BIG or SMALL goals, or even is she fails. I don’t want girls to view failure as a road block but rather as a motivation to get back up and try again. I want to be a CHANGE-MAKER for our girls.

What is the main role of a Site Director?

  • To be passionate about the mission and work towards accomplishing our mission locally.
  • Raise enough funds to cover the $4,000 program fee for a site location. 
  • Select an appropriate location for the site based on number of participants and safety. 
  • SECURE VOLUNTEERS. The success of BIO Girls is directly related to the ability of your mentors to relate to young girls. Mentors must be willing to commit to attending the 12 weekly sessions and running the 5K race with their group.
  • Select a local service project for your site to take part in halfway through your season.
  • REPRESENT BIO GIRLS WITH INTEGRITY AND RESPECT THE PROCESS.
  • BE A CHANGE-MAKER. 

How have your girls responded to the program?

I have seen huge growth with my own girls. I have seen them stick up for others who are being bullied. I have noticed that they are more confident in their own values. I have seen them take risks I couldn’t imagine them doing, but to my surprise they did. They have more confidence in themselves and trust their gut that they are making the best decision or choice.

I have received many complements about my girls from others. I believe a lot of it stems from parenting but also from BIO Girls. BIO Girls gave my girls the extra push they needed to really believe in themselves and to take those healthy risks.

As a Site Director I have heard such powerful feed back from parents about how this program has really helped their BIO Girl come out of her shell, or stand up to someone that is being a bully. I love hearing the positive feed back the parents give us about their BIO Girl.

Addison, BIO Girls Participant

What has been the best part of BIO Girls for you?

Running outside and getting to do the workouts outside. I like to lay the rocks outside for others to find. (As the session goes on, the BIO Girls can lay rocks with specials sayings or pictures on them for others to find to brighten their day.)

What do you like about the group sessions?

I like to work in the small groups, talking to each other and getting to know about each other. The large group allows us to know more about each other, as well. I know a few people in this group now, but I want to get to know even more!

Do you plan to be a junior mentor after this year, since this is the last year as a BIO Girl?

I want to! I would like to continue to help with my mom (the site director) and continue to help support BIO Girls at Trinity Lutheran. (BIO Girls have the opportunity to be a Junior Mentor after they have surpassed 6th grade.)

What are your goals for the Virtual 5k?

I would like to run most of it and not walk as much this year. I have a few friends that I want to get involved in the race, too, since they play a lot of sports and I think it would be good for them!

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Dr. Victoria was born and raised in Milwaukee, WI and fell in love with a Minnesota boy, Christopher. They recently married in the summer of 2019 and they have two wonderful boys, Nicholas (2013) and Theodore (2016) and baby girl Josette showed up May 2020. Victoria has worked as a Chiropractor for nearly 10 years now and she has opened up the first and only unlimited, membership-based Chiropractic clinic in the Fargo-Moorhead area in 2019. She is ecstatic to help those search out, reach, and maintain their health and wellness goals. In her spare time she mentors with Biogirls, a local nonprofit that encourages and builds confidence and healthy self-esteem in young girls. She is also working towards a Nutritional Diplomate in Chiropractic to better serve her community in health. Outside of these ventures, she spends time with her family camping, taking in the local parks, and dates with her husband usually involve fishing. Follow her on her website Victory Chiropractic & Wellness, Instagram, Facebook, or her blog to follow along on her journey in helping people maintain health and wellness.

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