FARGO — For 8-year-old Emily Cote, being involved in the BIO Girls program has offered her a safe place where she can truly let her personality shine. The sweet, cherub-faced redhead shared that she doesn’t always feel like that at school.

“I feel like I can’t be myself at school because people will laugh at me, but at BIO Girls, I can be myself and be who I want to be,” she said.

That’s exactly the type of outcome BIO (which stands for Beautiful Inside and Out) Girls is designed to do through its 12-week program. Founder Missy Heilman, who is also Cote’s group leader, explained that BIO Girls envisions a world where girls feel confident to be their bright, bold and beautiful selves. Weekly sessions last 90 minutes, with an evidence-based lesson as well as physical activity.

One of the BIO Girls’ pillars is kindness, and many of the lessons focus on being kind to themselves as well as their peers, so its second annual 5K Virtual Run in May was themed “Find Your Kind” again. “We want our participants to represent BIO Girls by being the one who is including others and spreading kindness in the community,” Heilman said.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts

As the program comes to a close, Cote and her grandma, Aimee Hanson, see how impactful the lessons have been for the first-time participant.

“I enjoy how we all get together to do activities that are based around real life and not (a subject) at school,” Cote said. “One of the most valuable things I’ve learned is just to be yourself; if someone tells you differently, don’t listen to them because in your mind, you’re right.” Hanson loves seeing her granddaughter’s confidence grow. “This has helped Emily know she can do anything she sets her mind to,” she said. “One of the best things is seeing how excited she is to go every week.”

That type of confidence is part of the self-esteem toolkit BIO Girls offers in four key topic areas: kindness, mental wellness, healthy relationships and leadership; the curriculum has been developed through research by doctors, counselors, teachers and professors, and participants are surveyed to ensure the lessons are achieving their purpose.

“They are going to be navigating situations almost every girl will experience, and they will think back to BIO Girls and access this toolkit,” Heilman explained.

BIO Girls is a grassroots organization that Heilman founded back in 2013 as a single program at her church that has now grown to multiple programs across five states that will reach approximately 1,700 girls. Then Heilman had two girls and she’s welcomed a third since establishing the program, and she said the program was born from a sensitivity to raising confident young women. “I just wanted to give back in some way,” she said.

Cote soundly affirms Heilman is giving back to her and all the other BIO Girls participants in so many important ways.

“One night while running . . . I’d had a tough week, and I just felt sad and started crying,” she remembered. “Missy stood up for me . . . she kind of feels like a family member to be because she stood up for me like a friend.”

To learn more about BIO Girls, visit www.biogirls.org.