Girls on the Run is Seriously Fun

From left to right: Carolyn H. Williams, Sandy Barry-Loken, Wendy Hutchison, Leslie McCullough, Donna Perry Keller, Beth Gregory-Wallis
From left to right: Carolyn H. Williams, Sandy Barry-Loken, Wendy Hutchison, Leslie McCullough, Donna Perry Keller, Beth Gregory-Wallis

Over the coming months we will be introducing you to our nine award winners honored at our sixth annual Champ Celebration last week. You won’t want to miss these special installments to our blog. We kick this series off with the winner of the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award. Retired Judge and CIS Board Member, Carolyn H. Williams presented the award. 

The Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award was established by the Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo Board in 2010 with the support of his wife, Carol Haenicke and the Haenicke family.  The Award was established to honor Diether’s extensive contributions to his adopted home of Kalamazoo and in particular, his service and genuine concern for the children and young people of our community.  While everyone knew of his love for higher education, and for Western Michigan University most especially, Diether Haenicke cherished teaching and learning at all levels and wanted all young people to have the gift of an excellent education and perhaps more importantly, the joy of life-long curiosity and learning.

GOTR Sandy Barry-Loken
GOTR Sandy Barry-Loken

The 2013 winner of this very special award is Greater Kalamazoo Girls on the Run. As a former coach of the Girls on the Run program at Edison School, I am most honored to make this presentation as I know from personal experience the impact that the program makes on individual girls and on each school or organization that hosts a team. The mission—to inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running—has grown from its first year serving 348 3rd, 4th and 5th grade girls to serving almost 2,500 girls in 2013. Still among the largest Girls on the Run Programs in the country, Kalamazoo’s program hosts a finale 5K event beginning in Western Michigan University’s Bronco Stadium that brings together not only the 2500 girls and their volunteer coaches, it attracts a wide range of community runners to run with them in support of their “girl power.” Likewise, there is something special in seeing a diverse community of parents, siblings, teachers and principals sitting next to one another in the stands of the stadium, all cheering for everyone’s daughters, nieces, sisters, cousins and neighbors.  It brings together parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and neighbors throughout the county and they unite behind every girl regardless of their income, job, race, religion, politics or school district.

0327The broader community supports this program by making sure that no girl is denied the opportunity to participate because her family cannot afford to pay the program fee which ensures that each girl has a pair of running shoes that fit, a water bottle, t-shirts and carefully trained coaches.  In addition, every year, hundreds of volunteers give of their time as coaches or event helpers.  Seeing thousands of 8, 9 and 10 year old girls in their Girls on the Run t-shirts with braids, ribbons and ponytails flying across the finish line to collect their medals is a sight to behold. Our entire community is positively impacted by Girls on the Run.

In his quest and urging of high standards and excellence, Diether was a prolific questioner, and those who worked with and for him knew both his genuine curiosity and their own angst when a good answer to his question escaped their brains or their tongues. The winner of this year’s Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award, Greater Kalamazoo Girls on the Run, through its Director, Sandy Barry-Loken, knew the experience of hearing one of Diether’s sincere questions, punctuated by a pronouncement—“why aren’t we doing Boys on the Run? Boys are more at risk, particularly in terms of education!”

KALAMAZOO -- Participants celebrate finishing "Girls on the Run" 5k together. Many parents ran with their children for support.
KALAMAZOO — Participants celebrate finishing “Girls on the Run” 5k together. Many parents ran with their children for support.

We are certain of two things. One, someone in this community—perhaps one of you who is here now—will answer Diether Haenicke’s challenge and start a special program for boys that has as great an impact as Girls on the Run. Two, we are certain he would agree with the message of the nominators of Girls on the Run: “THANK YOU for all that you do to support the positive development of girls in our community. The dedication of your staff, your Council and your volunteers is inspiring! Not only have you made tutus the fashion “must have,” the evidence of your hard work is alive on the faces of girls crossing the finish line. You are truly creating tomorrow’s powerful, joyful, confident and healthy women.

Congratulations Greater Kalamazoo Girls on the Run.