By Angela Higginbotham
Surrounded by corn fields and small towns, Laura Lasko was an athlete and star student growing up in rural Ohio. The Bowling Green State University graduate started her career as a child life specialist. After working in special needs camps and serving cancer patients, Lasko joined Girls Inc. in Augusta, Ga. In 2009, Lasko brought her career to Jacksonville when she became the executive director of Girls on the Run, an organization that inspires girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum that creatively integrates running.
A total of 24 years in the nonprofit world leaves Lasko with many valuable experiences and relationships that enrich her passion and daily efforts to help those in need. Lasko enjoys the sunshine and warmth Jacksonville brings compared to her hometown in Ohio.
- What first attracted you most to the Girls on the Run organization?
Nonprofit organizations try to be so many things to so many people. Girls on the Run does one thing and they do it well. It brought me back to my roots of working with volunteers who have incredible passion.
- What has been your proudest moment as executive director of Girls on the Run?
For many years, the team all worked from home. We used churches and other buildings when we needed space. We used a storage facility for both supplies and meetings. I acquired an office space, on the Southside, in 2011. It was a huge accomplishment for the organization. We now have a place to train coaches, we can be more focused on the girls we help and we can be more efficient in getting the job done.
The Cupcake Run has also been a great success. It’s our biggest event during the year and it makes up 50 percent of our scholarship program. Last year we grossed $45,000 and had 1095 participants. Fifty-four percent of those participants were new, energized people that had not participated in the previous years, so it’s growing rapidly and that’s something we are proud of.
- Who has been your biggest influence and why?
The most inspirational people to me are all of the people who I have worked with during the most difficult times in their lives. The parents and families of those children who have lost their lives to cancer or other medical conditions, they have allowed me to be close to their children and prepare eulogies; for that I am forever grateful, humbled and energized.
- How do you enjoy spending your spare time?
There’s not a lot of spare time for me, but I go to Ohio to see my family when I can. I enjoy my dog and going to the beach. I love refurbishing old furniture as well.
- If you could spend the day with anyone, who would it be and why?
Ellen Degeneres! In our increasingly divisive country, Ellen continues to find the good in people and spreads kindness in all directions. I would spend the day with her, hoping to learn her secret to staying positive when faced with so much negativity. She is a force for good and love, something I hope to be.
Photo courtesy Laura Lasko
Laura Lasko (left) and former coach/current board member, Joanne Carrizales.