Back on My Feet builds homeless individuals’ confidence and strength
by Mary Yost, editiorial intern
The camaraderie of a sports atmosphere is invaluable to homeless individuals who may not remember the benefits of being part of a team. A re-identification happens when these individuals participate in team runs, which provide them with the confidence to move forward in many aspects of their lives.
“Someone comes in having been in involved in a vicious cycle of homelessness and they have had trouble with the justice system, or whatever the case might be,” said Autumn Campbell, D.C. director of corporate communications and special events for Back on My Feet. “When they come into the program, they identify themselves as homeless, addicts and deadbeats. We help them by encouraging them to participate in a stable team atmosphere. Once they are in that atmosphere, they show up at 5:45 a.m. engaged, happy and exuding positive attitudes. Their re-identification happens when they become athletes, teammates and friends.”
Back on My Feet is a nonprofit organization that began in Philadelphia in 2007. It promotes the self-sufficiency of homeless individuals by encouraging them to run as a means to build confidence, strength and self-esteem.
“Every morning you are greeted with a smile and a hug,” said Lewis Smiley, who has run for two months with D.C.’s Clean and Sober Streets team. “We meet our trainers, walk across the street and get into a circle. The trainers ask everyone, ‘How is everything going?’ and then tell us how many miles we will run that day. Then we say the Lord’s Prayer and exercise.”
Back on My Feet is not completely running specific. “Running is the vehicle we use to move members toward self-sufficiency,” Campbell said. “It is a means to changing the way a lot of our resident-members think about their situations and view homelessness as a social issue.” Once the participants re-examine their lives, they can channel their energy toward improving their situations.
The program offers connections to job training, employment and housing benefits. Members can earn these services through the currency of commitment, teamwork, respect and perseverance by maintaining a 90 percent attendance rate at the morning runs over a 30-day period and entering the Next Steps program.
“We partner with employers and recommend individuals to those job partners,” Campbell said. “We say, ‘Let me tell you about Michael. He has a 90 percent attendance rate at 5:45 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. He has also taken computer and financial literacy classes. He will be a good employee for you and we can recommend him to you.’”
Anna Mahlum created the program after she developed a friendship with the homeless men she passed on her morning runs. “Running is such a beautiful metaphor for life,” she said in a press release. “Life is about choosing different roads and our program teaches the importance of choosing roads filled with opportunity, hope and happiness.”
Back on My Feet was launched in D.C. in March 2010. The newest team began at LA CASA in Northwest, D.C., on Monday, July 28.
“Residents begin with one mile when they start at Back on My Feet,” Campbell said. “As the teams mature and become more established, they begin running farther distances.”
Despite the different distances ran, the camaraderie of the team is maintained. “The majority of the people who come, run as a team together, so we get to bond a certain way,” Smiley said. “I used to work as part of a construction team, but this is different because nobody has a separate agenda.” The team collaboratively works together to achieve their goals.
This team atmosphere encourages participants to continue running when challenges arise. “Even when you want to stop running, my teammates and the coaches cheer me on and say, ‘Yeah! You can do it!’ so I have the motivation to finish,” Smiley said. “It helps us get our lives and bodies back on track.”
For more information on Back on My Feet, visit their Web site at www.backonmyfeet.org.
At Back on My Feet’s 20in24 fundraiser, winner Serge Aborna ran 146.7 miles in 24 hours. In second place was Sabrina Moran who ran 125.18 miles.