I was a fat kid. There’s no sugar coating it. I started out Southern beauty pageant cute a la Honey Boo Boo together with a combination of questionable genetics and a love of deep fried foods. My brothers were encouraged to be athletes, I was not. Girls did not play soccer. Girls did not run cross country. Girls stayed inside and did, well, girl things.

I believed that. So I stayed inside. And I got bigger.

After the birth of my third child, I stopped weighing myself. I bought a jacket – the largest I could buy off the rack – and it pulled in the back. And then I had my aha moment. I went to my doctor for finger tremors in my right hand. I was terrified that I might have Parkinson’s Disease. All my doctor wanted to talk about was my weight. I couldn’t make her understand that it had to be something else. She wouldn’t listen to me because I was fat.

I resolved to do something about it. I gathered my friends and we started walking every morning. And one by one, they all dropped out. I kept walking. One morning, I was standing at the corner by myself and nobody showed. I decided to walk it by myself. And then I thought that if I ran it, I could do it faster. So I tried. I couldn’t make a single mile. So I got up the next day and I tried again.

At my next doctor’s appointment, I told my doctor that I had been running and was up to a mile. She looked at me and said, “At your weight, you need more than a mile.” I was devastated. And she was wrong.

You see, that mile, that one mile was incredibly important. It was an accomplishment. It made me think I could go another mile. And eventually I did.

That fall, I signed up to run my first race. It was the Rothman Institute 8k. The night before, I panicked. I called my mom. There were supposed to be nearly 14,000 runners. “What if,” I asked my mom, “I come in 14,000th?” Without skipping a beat, she said, “Are your friends running with you?” I told her no. “Then,” she said simply, “You’re already ahead of them.”

I didn’t come in 14,000th. I didn’t come in first either. Or second. Or anywhere near the top. But I finished.

Since then, I’ve run a couple of half marathons, a ten miler, a couple of 8ks and too many 5ks to mention. I’ve only ever placed once. But I’ve kept running. And I do it for a lot of reasons: to prove to myself that I can, to stay healthy and to show my kids that it’s never too late to try something new.

raceThis year, I ran my best 5k ever. It was not nearly my best time, in fact, I was near the bottom of the pack. But I ran the whole thing with my 7 year old daughter on the beach. She asked if she could run a race with me – and how could I say no? I want my kids, but especially my girls, to understand that running and sports aren’t boy things. They are everybody things. You don’t have to be a certain gender or age or size to run.

That’s why, for my last charity this year in my 12 Days of Charitable Giving 2012, I’m choosing Girls on the Run. It’s an organization that has, as its vision: We envision a world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams.

They say, about the organization:

At Girls on the Run, running is not just a metaphor. We use this activity to inspire and motivate girls, encourage lifelong health and fitness and build confidence through accomplishment. At each season’s conclusion, the girls and their running buddies complete a 5k running event. In some cities this is a large, community wide event and in others, it’s a smaller but no less inspiring gathering of friends and family. Completing a 5k gives the girls a tangible sense of achievement as well as a framework for setting and achieving life goals. The results are the same—making the seemingly impossible, possible.

How can you help? You can make a cash donation online in any amount to the organization. If you’d prefer to write a check you can find the details here.

You can also volunteer to be a coach or a running buddy. To find a council near you, click here.

And why not go for a run? You can raise money for Girls On The Run by racing in a number of events. Find out how here. You can make a difference and be an inspiration.

You can also shop for the cause at the Girls On The Run gift shop.

A search at irs.gov (which I highly recommend any time you are considering making a donation to a charity) reveals that Girls On The Run (and its affiliates) can be found on the IRS list of charitable organizations. To find out more about the work of the organization, check out their website, follow them on twitter or like them on Facebook.

The new year is a great time for new beginnings. Whether you’re putting your best foot forward (it just takes one step to get started) or thinking of making a difference in the lives of others by volunteering or donating, I would encourage you to not be afraid to try something new.

If you’re looking for more inspiration, check out the charities that made our list this year:

Remember that these are just suggestions and, in most cases, I can’t personally vouch for the good work that these folks do. So be generous. But be smart.

For more on making charitable donations, check out some of these prior posts:

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Kelly Erb is a tax attorney and tax writer.

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