Janine Leah Capsouras had never run before participating in her first half-marathon a year ago. On Oct. 20, she finished the Detroit Marathon as a freedom fighter for victims of human trafficking.

Running has proven an important outlet both physically and mentally for Capsouras, who works as administrative and project coordinator at the Michigan Institute for Clinical and Health Research.

For her, it provides more than an opportunity to get fit. It’s a powerful form of activism. “I don’t particularly enjoy running, per se,” she laughed. “I don’t run for me. I choose reasons to get my ‘fun medals.’”

At the University of Michigan, Capsouras takes part in diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, and serves as a representative for Voices of the Staff. But she considers her MICHR co-workers family.

“At MICHR, we have ‘kudos cards.’ If someone does something nice for you, you fill out a kudos card and put it on their desk,” Capsouras said. “It’s just a little thing that lets you know you’re appreciated, and lets you tell others that they’re appreciated, too.”

Photo of Janine Leah Capsouras
Janine Leah Capsouras works as administrative and project coordinator at the Michigan Institute for Clinical and Health Research. (Photo by Scott C. Soderberg, Michigan Photography)

Outside of the workplace, Capsouras serves as a volunteer, athlete and activist — all at the same time. Her favorite recreational sports are archery and kayaking.

Capsouras has run 5Ks and half-marathons for organizations like the Detroit Zoo and the American Kidney Foundation. Most notably, however, Capsouras participates in Love Runs, which are organized by the RidgeRunners at NorthRidge Church to combat human trafficking in Metro Detroit.

Each runner aims to raise $1,140 — the average number of minutes in a day victims of human trafficking are in captivity. All funds raised go directly to anti-trafficking initiatives to aid in awareness, prevention and rescue of local victims. In four years, the Love Runs have raised $1.4 million dollars.

“It feels good knowing we’re all there to run for the same cause,” Capsouras said.

The Love Runs also organize outreach projects to spread awareness of human trafficking. The runners spread photos of missing girls to heavily frequented hotels in hopes of identifying victims.

During Detroit’s big tourist weekends, such as the auto show and the Woodward Dream Cruise, Capsouras and other volunteers distribute bars of soap to hotels. These soaps are specially packaged with the human trafficking hotline number on the back. They are placed in the bathrooms of hotel rooms — the only place a trafficked woman might have a moment to herself.

“Maybe a girl will see the number on the soap, and maybe she’ll be able to call,” Capsouras said. “Just giving someone the opportunity to call makes a difference.”

Animal welfare is another passion for Capsouras. Last fall, she went on her first animal rescue deployment for Red Rover, an organization that offers assistance for victims of domestic violence and their pets.

She also volunteers at the Humane Society of Huron Valley and serves as captain of the society’s low-cost pet vaccine clinic on the second Saturday of each month. Her biggest inspiration in life is the kindness people show for one another.

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“I met Maya Angelou at a reading in college. After the event, she went around and thanked everyone — the people who were helping, the people who were cleaning up, the people who were picking up trash — not just the people who put on the event,” Capsouras said. “And that sort of kindness always stuck with me.”

Capsouras finds this same kindness in volunteering.

“We have a junior volunteer program at the Humane Society,” Capsouras said. “Kids from 12 to 18 come in and learn how to be kind to animals. It’s incredible to watch. It’s inspiring.”

This work is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. “Whenever people asked me what I wanted to do with my life, it’s always been to rescue animals. And I’m doing that,” she said.