If you're trying to get back on your feet, what better way to do it than with a brisk morning run from Central Park to Times Square?
That's what 50 residential members—five each from 10 different shelters—and 200 volunteers did at 6:00 a.m. today to launch the New York City chapter of Back on My Feet, a national non-profit organization dedicated to helping the homeless achieve independence and self-sufficiency through running.
For many, it was a first in every way.
"I laced up my brand-new sneakers this morning and I ran my first mile," said Dennis, a resident of the Bowery Mission. "It felt really good, and I hope I can run many more."
Back on My Feet (BoMF) was founded by Anne Mahlum in July of 2007. Mahlum would often exchange greetings on her daily 5:00 a.m. runs through Philadelphia with homeless men in front of their shelter. "But one day I realized that through my running I was moving forward and making progress in my own life—and it didn't seem fair to be leaving those guys behind," she said at a launch breakfast that followed the run. Mahlum contacted the shelter, solicited donations of running gear, and the first Back on My Feet running club was born. On the first day, Mahlum led nine residents on a one-mile run. Since that time, at least 885 members have run a road race, and hundreds have obtained jobs and housing.
In addition to New York and Philadelphia, the organization now has chapters in Baltimore, Washington DC, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Indianapolis, and Atlanta, with plans to expand to the West Coast next year.
The program's success is measured by how many residential members achieve independence through employment and housing. The four- to six-month program works with individuals living in homeless and transitional facilities. Teams, including volunteers, run three mornings each week, with longer, optional runs on Saturdays. In addition, members attend monthly social events and local races. Attendance, mileage, and attitude are tracked—and after 30 days in the program, each residential member who has attended 90 percent of the morning runs moves to the "Next Steps" phase in which they are assisted in developing a road map to an independent life through education and job training. Financial aid is also available.
"I had never run before in my life, and I got started in Dallas—in July," said LaTonya Golden, one of BoMF's many success stories. "So I had to focus on small things, like my breathing, and gradually I learned that the same principles that helped me as a runner could be applied to all the problems in my life. I gradually learned to break problems down into smaller parts, and that gave me confidence."
Among the honorees at the launch breakfast at the Marriott Marquis hotel, sponsored by Accenture and Marriott Hotels of NYC, were Mary Wittenberg, president and CEO of New York Road Runners, and George Hirsch, chairman of the Board of Directors of New York Road Runners and former Publisher of Runner's World magazine. NYRR has been a charity partner of BoMF for the past three years and was among the breakfast sponsors. As part of the partnership, Back on My Feet members will receive guaranteed entries to select NYRR races.
"We're thrilled that you've found a team through your membership in Back on My Feet," Wittenberg told the runners, "Know that you also have a home in the larger New York City running community."