Finding a way to combine fun, fitness and philanthropy was Jamie Allison’s goal when she founded Moms in Motion in Santa Barbara in 1999. Now she’s taking the show on the road, with 5,244 members in 140 cities, 45 states and four countries.
LD: How did Moms in Motion get started?
JA: It was a hobby. We started with friends and family, there were 14 of us who did the triathlon team … For me it was about feeling overwhelmed with wanting to belong to a few charities, wanting to belong to a few social groups, wanting to belong to a few fitness teams that were already organized out there, and then feeling totally stressed out with the idea of how am I going to do that and be a mom and be a good wife and do it all.
… I started looking around for mommy/baby groups but that wasn’t really what I wanted either. I think there’s a really great purpose for that, especially for brand-new moms to meet at the park with their babies, but after a while I wanted to move and get my fitness in and meet other women in the community who had those same interests. Yet at the same time I really wanted to be able to get everything in one place so I didn’t feel so maxed out and spread thin, and that’s when I thought about incorporating the charity part and then the social part.
Our whole foundation, our principles are fun, fitness and philanthropy, and in all of our groups locally and nationally those are the three principles they have to integrate into their programs. What I’m finding is that has set us apart as a unique niche. … It simplifies your life if you choose to just get everything in that one place.
LD: And the team leaders choose which nonprofits to support?
JA: Yes, it’s up to them. We’re kind of unique in Santa Barbara because we have multiple leaders here (Amanda Nicolato leads a bootcamp and weight training, Emily Watson leads a hiking team, Laura Francis leads the stand-up paddle board team, Sean English leads the cycling team, Chrissy Lombardi leads the core conditioning and half-marathon training teams, Ernesto Paredes leads the triathlon training team, and Mandy Burgess leads the surfing and conditioning team). … We meet every other month and talk about the different charities. Some leaders like to continue with the same charity year after year, some leaders like to mix it up, some leaders are getting new information about what’s out there each season but it’s their choice and the whole purpose is to constantly educate our members on what’s out there. So we give them a little taste of that charity and we either volunteer or we piggyback a fundraiser, or we create our own fundraiser and collectively we kind of do what we can to help that charity. So we invite the director to come and speak to us and bring their wish list of wants and needs, and then we as a group decide what we can do.
LD: It’s great to offer that opportunity because it’s hard to volunteer when you have young kids at home.
JA: Especially when your kids are little. Some members are so tapped out they can’t do anything and that’s OK; at least they’re getting the information about that charity. And there are others who are gung-ho and are amazing with what they’re doing. A lot of those members, I’m thinking of Domestic Violence Solutions, have stayed on as independent volunteers and that’s when we really feel like we’ve contributed because yes, we’ve adopted that charity for the season but when people continue on, that’s pretty awesome. And the triathlon team just raised money for Village Properties’ Teacher’s Fund and Computers for Families and so many of our members weren’t aware of those two opportunities, so it was pretty awesome.
LD: Do you train with one of the teams?
JA: I stepped out of the coaching arena, so, yes, now I get to enjoy doing that. And you know it’s hard to always take off that coaching hat completely. … Right now I’m running with Chrissy’s running group.
LD: I really liked your blog just talking about training with the group from San Luis Obispo. There’s something really nice about being able to do that.
JA: The instant connection of it was so surreal for me because it was like closing your eyes and, hearing the conversations, I could have been here with our group, and it’s just connecting women and you’re at a kind of similar stage of life. I mean not everybody because we have 60 year olds running with us, we have mother-daughter duos, but for the most part where we are at this stage in life.
… When I was in San Luis we were talking to one of the moms who was a four-time marathon finisher. She was going through the empty-nest syndrome. So she was talking to me about her kids had just left for college and it was really kind of fun because they had a need to share why participating in Moms in Motion was nice for them.
I was feeling like I didn’t want to interrupt their practice but it was really wonderful to hear all of the different perspectives about why this is important to them. It’s fulfilling. That part of it is so great; it’s really what’s keeping me excited.
… When I was up in San Luis they wanted me to talk about how this all came to be and I was just talking about how important it is at this stage of life, I mean for me, to continue making friends along these lines who lift every body up. It’s a group that gets together to support each other and I was talking about all that, and I was saying how cool that is … how we’re building community and really that to me is what this is all about, building a sense of community, and one of the members piped in she said, “but you forgot one of the most important things.” I was like what is it, what is it?
And she said “you know, when I leave for practice my girls are running around the house playing Moms in Motion.” And I thought wow. That gave me chills. This is really important for our kids to see mom taking care of herself because when she takes care of herself she’s taking care of the whole family.
LD: Is it hard for you to step out of the coaching and let local teams do their thing? Is that challenging for you at all?
JA: No, it’s not. … When I worked for the school district, my boss, Mike Couch, he was assistant superintendent and he brought me in as a reading coordinator for junior and senior high schools, to implement reading programs for kids who couldn’t read. I’ll never forget the way he led me. He said, “Jamie this is the program, you need to implement it. You just check in every week and tell me how it’s going.” And I thrived on that because I got to be creative, I got to make it my program, I didn’t have someone who was micro-managing me. I always thought, gosh, that’s the way to lead. I mean obviously you’re going to have setbacks with people who try to take advantage of the situation and then you have to deal obviously with that, but for the most part I think with this I feel like if you set the structure and the model up and you provide that and you’re there for support and you have a pretty good sense of people who you bring in, my deal has always been let them lead. Get out of the way.
LD: You are sort of conspicuously absent from the Moms in Motion Web site. Is that intentional?
JA: Well sort of. I’ve always been a behind-the-scenes worker. It’s not really about me, it’s about them, and so I kind of put myself to the side. I’m there, if you want to find me you go to Our History and then there’s a place for me talking about all the little awards and all that good stuff, but I kind of feel that that’s not what Moms in Motion is really about — it’s really about connecting women to each other and developing that community.
LD: If you could be invisible anywhere in Santa Barbara, where would you go and what would you do?
JA: Onstage at the Santa Barbara Bowl with some of the musicians. I could be a backup singer and they wouldn’t even know it.
Vital Stats: Jamie Allison
Born: Santa Rosa on Jan. 21
Family: Husband Michael and daughters Kate, 7, and Samantha, 3
Civic Involvement: “I really do that through my Moms in Motion groups.”
Professional Accomplishments: Teacher, masters in Education from UCSB, Santa Barbara School Districts’ secondary reading coordinator; Founder/CEO of Moms in Motion
Best Book You’ve Read Recently: A Map of the World, by Jane Hamilton
Little-Known Fact: “I studied with a shaman in Peru for a few weeks.”
Noozhawk contributor Leslie Dinaberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.