Sandy Barry-Loken

What is your official title?

I am the Director of the Greater Kalamazoo Girls on the Run.


What’s an average day in the ‘Zoo look like for you?

Mmm, an average day. I usually get up around 5:00 in the morning, and it varies depending on what day of the week it is what “typical” might look like. I have days where I get up and spend a half hour getting my first cup of coffee, checking my email and my social media, then I meet a group of women to run.

We typically fun four or five miles, and we’ve been running together for over five years now. There’s a core group of us, and we usually go out two or three times a week. We laugh as much as we run, and the miles fly by – it’s great! It’s such a great way to get to know someone; you just get to know these people on a different level when you run together.

Then I come back home and start helping to get all of the people out the door. I have three children, and they’re pretty independent, but I still put my mom hat on to make sure everyone’s moving in the right direction and that they have what they need for the day. I usually leave around 8:15 to head to the office and get to it with all of my co-workers and all of the volunteers for Girls on the Run.

I head back home at the end of the day, help with the after school homework. I start to think about what might be for dinner around 4:00 or 5:00 – that’s how far ahead I plan for that! Then I get back to work, and spend a few more hours moving things forward and preparing for the next day!


What is Girls on the Run?

Girls on the Run is an after school character development program for girls third through eighth grades, and our mission is to inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident, using a fun, experience-based curriculum that creatively integrates running. What we’re trying to do is to give girls the strength, confidence and courage they need to make healthy choices and to believe in themselves as they move through adolescence and become adult women.

Girls on the Run is a national program, it was founded in 1996 in Charlotte, NC by a woman named Molly Barker. Molly started the program with 13 little girls and now we have over 120,000 girls who participate annually! We delivered our first program cycle in the Greater Kalamazoo area in 2002, so this our 11 year anniversary. It’s really exciting to see how the program has exploded in our community. We are the largest council of Girls on the Run in Michigan, and we are currently the 7th largest out of 213 councils in the U.S. and Canada.


In what ways can people volunteer?

One of the most meaningful ways to volunteer with Girls on the Run is to coach for one of our programs. We have two programs, Girls on the Run, which is third through fifth grade, and Girls on Track, which is for girls in 6th through 8th grade and delivered in the fall. Coaching either of our programs is life changing. People who come forward to coach say they do it to make a difference in the lives of girls, but what they tell us is that they leave with so much more than what they started with. It’s the girls who truly inspire them to grow their own confidence, and in many cases, become more active. We have women who take up walking and running because of their experience with the program, and tell us in general they move through their days with more confidence and greater positivity because of what they were exposed to in leading the curriculum.

Coaching is a very positive way to be involved, but we have hundreds of other ways to get involved. We have several planning committees that help us deliver every aspect of our program; we also have lots of one-time volunteer opportunities with supplies and materials that need prepping.

We host two 5k’s throughout the year. With our Girls on the Run 5k in the spring we need some 500 volunteers to make that what it is, and for Girls on Track in December, we are hosting a Hot Chocolate 5k, and will need about 100 volunteers in various roles.

To find more information, people can go to our website,, and use the navigation menu to locate the ‘Get Involved‘ section. You can read more about the roles and responsibilities, you can see our leadership committees, you can sign up to volunteer – we’re happy to help someone find a way to participate that’s meaningful to them!


What kind of projects are you currently working on?

We are, for the first time ever, planning to offer online participant registration. We piloted online registration with Girls on Track this fall. It was important for us to learn through this pilot because we are committed to making sure there are no barriers for any girl who wants to participate. Girls on the Run is one of the few youth serving programs that truly serves girls from every ethnic background, every socioeconomic background, every neighborhood, every public school, and nearly every private school in the community. We recognize some families don’t have access to technology, so we hesitated to move to an electronic system in case it would in some way prohibit girls from being able to register, but we’ve put systems in place that we think will support all families.

This has been a huge project for us, and it’s great that we’ve acquired a tool that doesn’t only register girls, but serves as registration for coaches, volunteers, events, and SoleMates. SoleMates is our adult charity running program. People can choose to complete any athletic event of their choice, and can also raise money to contribute to participant scholarships.

We’re also working on expanding our social media usage. We’ve long been on Facebook and Twitter, but now we’re looking at using Instagram, because we really have amazing photos and moments that have been captured, so we need to share those more broadly. We are going to start doing some blogging, too, and I’m really excited to start sharing stories to help people see how the program not only touches the girls’ lives, but also our volunteers, the parents, the coaches, and the donors; it’s just another way to share how their lives have been changed by the program.

Lastly, we are partnering with the Kalamazoo Marathon, Southwest Michigan First and Gazelle Sports to hold a Leadership Conference on November 14th. The goal is to bring leaders together in the community, and to inspire them to inspire others to get moving! Whether it’s to walk, to run, or to take on leadership positions, it’s all about inspiration to become healthier. We are really excited to bring people together and develop more leaders that will be a part of the continual growth of our healthy community.


Can you tell us about the different events that you host?

In talking about the runs that we host, I think it’s important that people understand that even though the name of our program is Girls on the Run, we are more than a running program. Truly when the girls come together to meet for 90 minutes, two times a week for 10 weeks, they experience a lesson about their overall health and well-being. They learn lessons about healthy eating and emotional health; they learn how to stand up for themselves. We talk about topics like bullying and gossiping, and the girls plan and implement a community service project together.

All while they’re doing these things they’re training to complete a 5k at the end of the program. It’s not a race. The running component in our curriculum is intended to truly help the girls learn how to set a goal for themselves, and to learn how to prepare and achieve that goal. The 5k is a culmination of those 10 weeks of hard work; it’s about achieving their individual goal, supporting their teammates, and teaching the girls to have care and compassion for themselves and others. It brings the community together to celebrate what the girls have accomplished. Those are what the 5k’s are all about.

A really fun event that we’ll be hosting for the second time is the Tutu Fun Run – the tutu is optional, but it’s just a blast. It’s a 2.2 mile run, starting a 2 pm on February 2nd. It’s open to the entire community, and it’s a great way to come out and celebrate our girls and our health. It’s part of our mission to have fun, and we really do that at this event.

We host several fundraisers throughout the year, because we are committed to never turning a girl away from the program. Because of grants and community and corporate support, we have never turned a girl away from our program due to an inability to pay. The Tutu Fun Run is a good example of the additional events we have to help fundraise for our girls. Last year, we were expecting around 200 runners, and we had about 1000 people who came and participated – it was just amazing! The effort people put in to making their Tutus was mind blowing. We hope to see everyone out again this year!


What do you love most about Kalamazoo?

I love the passion that people in our community have for making this community one of the best, if not the best place to live in the world. When you look at the work that people are doing in the greater Kalamazoo area to strengthen our community, it’s just incredible. I think about the work that the Kalamazoo Community Foundation is doing with ‘love where you live’, and all of the programming and support they’re giving to the people who live here to better their lives; it’s inspiring! Southwest Michigan First is doing so much to engage the business community, both existing and new businesses, to make this a place that thrives from an economic standpoint. I just really believe that the leadership in this community is so strong and that’s one of the best things about Kalamazoo.


What can be done to improve our beloved Kalamazoo?

I think every day things are being done to improve our community. Truly it’s a collective effort across the board. The more that we can do to continue to support programs that are trying to improve the social equity of our community, the better off we’ll be. I think, for example, of the work that’s being done in the KC Ready 4’s to try to make pre-school education available to every child regardless of their financial background. And organizations like Communities in Schools, working to help kids stay in school, to make sure they have the academic support they need, but also that they don’t have to worry about having enough food to eat on the weekend when they aren’t in school; they help get the kids’ basic needs met so they can focus on their education. And Girls on the Run, as we work to ensure that every girl, regardless of her background has the ability to grow up strong, healthy and confident to make positive choices for herself. I think supporting programs like those that support our youth and their growth is so important.


What have you been jammin’ to recently? What’s on the iPod?

Well I’ve long been kind of a Top 40 girl, so I always love what’s current. When I’m not running with my friends, when I’m out on my own, I rock my own playlist. My music ranges from Eminem to Guns and Roses, some Beyonce, and there might be a little Carly Rae Jepson and Katy Perry thrown in there – gotta have ‘Firework’ on the list. I always hope that when I come up to a big hill that ‘Lose Yourself’ comes on to pump me up!


How do you take your coffee?…or do you?

Cream with a little bit of coffee. Waterstreet Sumatra Mandehling is my go-to, and I buy it by the bag, whole bean, and grind it every morning. Plain cream. I don’t want any sweet in my coffee.


What is your favorite app to use?

I sure use my Facebook app to help manage the social media for our Girls on the Run program. I love my mLive app, get my local headlines from mLive. I like Words with Friends, I play with my mom – she just got her first iPhone a few weeks ago. I like the Intellicast app, it’s a weather app. When you have programming that takes place outside, it’s definitely a frequent view.


Do you have a “go to” spot in Kalamazoo?

Probably Waterstreet. My Sunday run group starts at Waterstreet on Oakland, and we run for an hour, then occasionally drink coffee for two hours. I love Cosmos too; it’s one of my favorite stops.


If you could bring any national or global event to Kalamazoo, infrastructure aside, what would it be?

It’s gotta be the Olympics! How could it not be if we had the resources and structures to make it happen? It would just be so inspiring to host those events in our community. I can see it now, the Girls on the Run girls carrying the torch through Waldo Stadium…


When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I was on the fast track to become a news anchor. I always as a teenager admired anchors, and at the time there weren’t many female anchors. Barbara Walters was doing some anchoring, but I watched the male news anchors; I had a picture of Tom Brokaw in my high school locker! Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw, they were an inspiration for me. I did Forensics in high school. I just thought that would be a cool job.


How long have you been in your position, and what did you do before that?

I have been with Girls on the Run for ten and a half years. Before that I was serving as the Director of Student Activities and Leadership at Western Michigan University, so I was helping oversee events like Bronco Bash, Homecoming, Greek Life, women’s resources and services, the religious student services. It was a really great job, too. The reason that I opened up myself to other opportunities was because I had just had my second child, and life as a college student begins at 3:00 in the afternoon. It was a challenge to feel like I was supposed to be somewhere else when the work was needed. I always said though that if I wasn’t doing what I was at Western that I wanted to be working with girls and women to help enhance their self-esteem, so it was so great that the Girls on the Run position became available and I had the opportunity to jump into something I was passionate about.


Sandy, thank you for taking the time to meet with us and sharing your thoughts! Be sure to follow us on facebook and twitter for updates.