Building Good People and Good Citizens

Daily Point of Light # 7841 Jun 25, 2024

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Sarah Langland. Read her story, and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.

When Sarah Langland and her partner moved to Culpepper, they were seeking the solace of living in the proverbial “middle of nowhere.” Despite her desire to live rurally, Sarah is heavily involved in her community. Her work as the events coordinator for the Culpepper Chamber of Commerce allows her to help support local businesses and nonprofits. And her discovery of Girls on the Run Piedmont has led her on a volunteer journey filled with purpose.

Girls on the Run is a national organization that implements programs for young girls to learn life skills—managing emotions, fostering friendships, expressing empathy, etc.—while building self-confidence and training for a 5K. Sarah has been a coach since 2016 and a board member and chair since 2021. When she’s not building up the next generation of women, Sarah sings in a community choir and lives out her rock star dreams at karaoke.

What inspires you to volunteer?

I come from a family that is big on getting involved in the community, so from a young age, I remember volunteering. I met the executive director of Girls on the Run after her presentation at a nonprofit meeting. I had a difficult time with friends and bullies as a kid, and it sounded like this program really could have helped me out had it been around back then.

Tell us about your volunteer role with Girls on the Run Piedmont.

I started as a Heart & Sole coach for girls in 6th through 8th grade. My job was to inspire, motivate and cheer. We run a 10-week program in spring and fall with meetups twice a week for girls in 3rd through 8th grade. During that time, they train for a 5K. For a lot of them, it’s their first.
While training to run, we teach them life skills when they’re young, so when they get older, they’ve already got them in their tool belt. We help them make healthy choices, both emotionally and physically. They play games, do homework as a team and get to know each other. They have a journal to keep track of laps, so they can see their fitness progress. But it’s also a workbook, so that they can revisit lessons they’ve learned.

I eventually joined the board, and that same year, I became the board chair. Since then, I usually coach the summer camp, a program with five half-days. As board chair, I help with fundraising, outreach and overall strategy. Last year, I had an opportunity to represent Girls on the Run at the Virginia PTA conference. I got to connect with teachers and parents from across the state to talk about the impact we have in schools, and to hopefully get our programs into more of them.

We just had our first Sneaker Soiree, a fundraising gala, and asked one of our first Heart & Sole girls to speak. It was nice to hear how Girls on the Run has helped her. She’s now a college student, but those lessons have stuck with her.

The fundraising SoleMates team–(left to right) Tabitha Riley, a dedicated GOTR volunteer and board members Pam Wons and Sarah Langland–take a water break at the GOTR tent during the 2023 Virginia Wine Country Half Marathon.

Do you often hear from students about how that’s changed their lives?

Many of them. They come back to coach, because they want to pay it forward to the girls coming up behind them. I saw a video that had interviews with girls across the country who have done the program. It was moving to hear their stories of inspiration, because a lot of them may not have come from the best of situations, and it really helped them either navigate their home or school lives, and it still helps them with their relationships today.

What are your long-term plans or goals for the organization?

We just expanded from four counties to seven or eight in the last couple years, so we have plans for expanding ambassador programs and program coordinators to help them facilitate. We can look at the next five years and see what that looks like, but we haven’t come up with that plan just yet.

What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?

We’ve helped so many girls over the last 10 years. Knowing that there are people out there who are like me when I was young, and that we’re giving them those tools to find confidence, is very rewarding. And when I hear their stories, I’m reminded of why we do this.

What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?

When you’re coaching these programs, it’s really hard not to absorb the programming yourself, and it’s just always a good reminder of how to express our feelings or how to have confidence in ourselves.

Tell us about future partnerships, programs or events that you are excited about.

We’ll start planning our Sneaker Soiree again next month for March of next year. And our fall 5K is in November. All the girls from all the different schools will be coming together for the 5K they’ve been training for all season. It’s so rewarding to see that, because they start off saying, “I can’t run that far,” to saying, “Wow, I just crossed the finish line!”

Why is it important for others to get involved with causes they care about?

It’s just what I like to do. When you’re volunteering for a cause you’re passionate about, you’re not just sitting back and being unhappy with the way things are. You’re actually a part of the change. You can make a difference for that one person, and it will have a ripple effect that you’ll never see.

What do you want people to learn from your story?

Follow your passion. Being passionate about helping my community has gotten me to where I am with my job as well as board chair of Girls on the Run Piedmont. By doing that, I’ve met some amazing people. I have helped a lot of people. Everybody has limitless potential. You just have to tap into that and remind yourself that you can do whatever you put your mind to.

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Sarah? Find local volunteer opportunities.

Kristin Park