Gazelle Girl Half Marathon & 5K, an MRG partnership race, is serious about its commitment to community — and to women. This is one of the reasons I feel so strongly about working with this particular race.

“Gazelle Girl is a special, one-of-a-kind event that connects women through movement, charity and fun,” says Tiler Payne, Gazelle Girl Half Marathon race director. “Not only are the women who participate in the race doing something good for themselves through the sport of running, but they’re impacting female-focused charities in the same effort.

This race donates 100 percent of profits to its charity partners. To date, the event has raised close to $100,000 for local charities, including Gazelle Girl Half Marathon’s three founding charities YWCA of West Central Michigan, GROW (Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women) and Kent County Girls on the Run. And each year a fourth charity is selected to join the benefactors.

The 2015 fourth charity selected is Women at Risk, International, a Grand Rapids-based, nonprofit organization, established to create circles of protection around at-risk women and children. Through culturally sensitive, value-added intervention projects and partnerships, the organization provides safe places to heal from abuse, trafficking and exploitation. Its passion is to empower survivors to live and work with dignity and hope.

“We’re thrilled to welcome Women at Risk, International to our 2015 charity partner lineup,” Payne says. “We look forward to another year of celebrating and empowering women.”

teamwar-logo-sm-text.jpgMRG recently caught up with Kailie Heim, programming assistant and content manager for Women at Risk, International to learn more about the organization and its passion for empowering women. Kailie has been a runner since high school, and says she also enjoys “low-impact biking and swimming.” Here’s more from Kailie:

First, please tell us about Women at Risk, International.

The heart and soul of our organization is in the three forms of programs we create/partner with: Preventative, Curative, Supportive. Preventative programs, of course, care for those at-risk, ensuring that they are not trafficked or forced to endure any of the many risk issues that we address (anywhere from depression, to abuse, to FGM). Curative programs work to holistically care for a woman after she has been trafficked or abused. We work hard to ensure that all of our 150 programs/partners in over 40 countries offer holistic and sustainable healing. Supportive programs work to spread awareness and ensure that all these programs can continue their work. Behind all of our programs is the desire to empower women. Women in preventative and curative programs are taught to support themselves and discover their own dreams and abilities. Those is supportive programs (often volunteers) are empowered by their own ability to care for wounded women and children.

What does it mean to be chosen as a charity partner?

Over a year ago, we met a woman on outreach in the bars of Grand Rapids. Staff with Women At Risk, Int’l mentioned they could help her seek alternative employment, should she desire it. At 9 o’clock the next morning, she was at our headquarters. After trying in vain to write a resume for someone who only knew the abuse of the red light district, WAR hired her on the spot. This was the birth of the US Training Center.

During this year, she has been joined by five other women in our staff kitchen, learning to create jewelry and gifts that will be bought and bragged on. It’s heartbreaking, in our limited space, to keep these valuable women tucked away in this less-than-comfortable environment. Even in our desperate desire to offer them healing and dignity, they work where the microwave warms frozen lunches, where coffee is spilt, and where noisy lunch breaks offer distraction.

Our dream of creating a space of peace, hope, healing, and dignity is now not far off. As the fourth charity of the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon, we can begin running toward our fundraising goals. Soon, the U.S. Training Center will offer more local at-risk and rescued women the ability to learn sought-after skills, offering them a hand-up, not a hand-out. We are grateful to know, through their relentless voting, that our community supports this massive project which will ultimately make our home of Grand Rapids, Michigan a holistic haven of safety for rescued and at-risk women.

How can people get involved and help?

Our get-involved page outlines some opportunities. However, opportunities to take action are nearly endless. We are always in need of volunteers at our headquarters who can package products, stuff mailings, prepare donations, and much more. “Parties with Purpose” are also an important way people can get involved — every $250 of product sold at a party supports a woman at a safehouse for an entire month. We are also always in need of people on our style committee — men and women who can look at potential products and tell us if they will sell to the customers. This helps us understand consumer trends and train women to make jewelry that will sell — we don’t want to patronize these women, we want to empower them with sought-after skills. Our passion at WAR is to make sure that every individual knows that they have the power to take action. Even if it is not with us, every person has the power to care for the rescued and at-risk, whether that be at a local domestic abuse shelter or soup kitchen. When every person understands the risks and signs of human trafficking (among other risk issues), then we have more power to bring it to an end. So everyone, from bus drivers to lawyers, has the opportunity to get involved. All they need to do is ask.

Learn more about the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon’s charities here » 

Stay tuned for more news and inspiring runner stories relating to the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon & 5K in the coming months.