What he likes best about running? Finishing.
“The best part is when we’re all done and you feel that rush. You feel nice and relaxed. It does something to your body when you finish a run like that,” said Maurice. “It’s like medication, my favorite part is when I get my medicine.”
Maurice is a member at the Philadelphia chapter of non-profit organization Back On My Feet (BoMF). Founded in 2007 by Anne Mahlum, who started a running club for men at a shelter near her home, BoMF aims to empower those who are homeless through the power of running.
Across 12 cities in the U.S. including Chicago, New York City and its newest addition, San Francisco, members commit to 5:30 early morning runs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Some have families and some are working on their high school equivalent diploma, but they’ve all got one thing in common: the desire to achieve new goals, one step at a time.
BoMF believes that running offers powerful lessons for life, teaching us that we have to run miles one through nine to get to 10. Recognizing that homelessness isolates individuals from the norms of everyday life and leaves them distanced from the people around them, the early morning runs with others affected by homelessness and volunteers who believe in the cause give members support and a sense of community.
Running gets members active and more conscious about their health, though the ultimate aim of BoMF is much more than that. Members with 90% attendance in their first month with BoMF, showing commitment to the program, move into its second phase: Next Steps. From then on, members are provided access to educational support, employment opportunities and housing resources, giving them the help they need to restart their lives.
In particular, BoMF’s employment program helps many of its members find work. Gaps in employment and a lack of critical workforce training are just some of the barriers that make it difficult for the homeless to find long-term, sustainable jobs. To make up for this, BoMF partners with companies across the country to provide training in areas including customer service, financial literacy and Microsoft Office. Members can also work to get qualifications such as food handling and forklift operator certifications.
Established organizations including Marriott Hotels, Macy’s department store and CVS pharmacy partner with BoMF, provide employment opportunities to members when qualified. BoMF continually invites business owners seeking hardworking and committed employees to contact them for potential partnership. With a regular job and a stable income, members find independence and new meaning in their lives.
Mark, also a member of the Philadelphia chapter, took part in the programs offered by BoMF, among them a forklift certification, Bank of America financial courses, AT&T technology training and an Accenture workshop in resume building and mock interviewing.
“I took advantage of all the classes because they all benefit me. I wanted everything that I could get out of Back on My Feet, that’s why I apply myself. I’m motivated and I’m trying to achieve my goals and what I want to do in my life right now, so I took advantage of the program and it’s working for me,” Mark explains.
BoMF recruits members at homeless and residential facilities around the country. Many of its members are recovering from drug and alcohol addictions, some have spent time in jail, and they are in general at a low point in their lives. The discipline it takes to stick to an early morning regime three times a week encourages members to believe that the goals they set for themselves are within reach. Many find passion in the sport, doing training on their own and signing up for runs in their community.
Thanks to BoMF, Donna managed to kick a 28-year addiction of cocaine. The first time Donna joined a run, she thought she was too sick and old to do it. Members and volunteers recognized her struggle and motivated her to keep going. Her father’s passing turned into a hard battle against turning to drugs again, but she was determined not to let her new friends down. Donna pressed on, showing up at all her runs and doing her best. Her newfound confidence inspired her to set a goal to complete a 13.1-mile run, and she did it.
“That was the beginning of my life. I finally found a job working for Kirkbride Rehab Center, where I am very happy. This job keeps me grounded. It reminds me everyday where I came from and helps me not to go back.”
“I’m doing everything in life that I always wanted to do,” said Donna.