Volunteering

Back on My Feet helps the homeless move forward, one step at a time

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. 

Image Credits: Back on My Feet and Back on My Feet Philadelphia's Facebook Page

One woman’s mission to light up her town for Christmas

This Christmas, one American town is shining a little brighter – thanks to Victoria Coakley and her project to “light up” the west end of Louisville, Kentucky.

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Coakley told local news station WLKY that it is her mission to bring more decorations to West Louisville.

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“Instead of seeing the abandoned houses with cardboard on them and graffiti, I want them to see Christmas lights,” Coakley said.

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Since the beginning of December, Coakley has been collecting decorations and stringing them around the neighborhood with the help of volunteers. Coakley received enough to decorate about 100 homes.

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Coakley’s efforts to light up the this part of Louisville have been well received by the people of the neighborhood, who agree that this gives the town some much needed positivity.

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“It is all about the kids, just trying to give them some kind of inspiration,” Stallard, a local resident, said.

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As captioned in a Facebook post, the west end of Louisville doesn’t have many Christmas lights. Children deserve to see Christmas spirit, regardless of the neighborhood they live in.

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"It changes the atmosphere of everything. There's not really a lot of activity or positive things going on that you can visually see. So the lights are something that you can see," Coakley said.

Street Books library offers the homeless a different narrative

 

A bicycle pulls up on the streets of Portland, Oregon, a heavy cargo box in tow. Inside the box is a selection of novels: sci-fi, biographies and everything in between. Patrons walk up to the bike, browsing the titles with curiosity and checking one or two out. There’s no due date, they’re told, and no fines either.

This is the work of Laura Moulton’s project Street Books, a bicycle-powered mobile library for the homeless and those living on the margins. In the summer, Moulton and her team take to the city, making designated stops and bringing literature to a community whose circumstances forbid them from doing so themselves.

Moulton is an artist and a writing professor who firmly believes in the power of reading to help one escape a different reality, a relief that is much needed for those experiencing a difficult time in their lives.

“I think people come to the library for a variety of reasons, and part of it, I think, is being able to lose yourself in a book for the time,” said Moulton.

But without proper identification or a home address to give, the homeless are unable to obtain library cards at public libraries, making borrowing from them not an option. And this is where Street Books steps in.

 


Street Book was originally created as Moulton’s short-term project in the summer of 2011. At the outset, Moulton was skeptical about whether it would be well-received.

“It’s a bit of an audacious proposal to go out and say, yes, I know you’ve been sleeping on a piece of cardboard for three nights, but here’s a paperback book,” Moulton recalled thinking at the time.

But when asked by a patron in the final days of the initiative where Street Books would be next week, Moulton realized she had created something that actually had demand among the homeless community. 

Image:   Street Books

Five years later, Street Books has amassed a loyal group of patrons-turned-regular-readers. Some are former bookworms, excited to rekindle an old love, while some are just realizing a newfound passion.

“The power of a project like Street Books is that when the assumption is that these people outside are not intelligent, not capable of a range of feelings somehow, we show a different narrative,” said Moulton.


A regular patron of Street Book when it began, Ben Hodgson read about three books a week and probably over 50 just that summer.

“You’re sitting around with nothing to do but stare off into space, and it just makes it a lot more livable to have something to do as a leisure-time activity, said Hodgson.

Hodgson was homeless at the time and living on the streets of Portland. After three years outside, he was finally shortlisted for veterans housing. One day, he ran into Moulton, who was delivering books. Remembering his regular patronage and love of literature, Moulton offered him a job sorting through their book collection. Since then, Hodgson has been working as a Street Books’ librarian and inventory specialist. Moulton calls him an “invaluable asset” to the team.

Besides Moulton and Hodgson, Street Books consists a team of other street librarians, all of them avid readers and firm believes that literature should be accessible to all. They don’t just fulfill their librarian duties of handling checkouts and returns, but also encourage patrons to make requests for titles they don’t see. They take the effort to remember the names of their patrons, striking up conversation about thoughts on their most recent read and what books they’ll be digging into next.


“What I realized from Street Books is how similar we all are and how much we connect around reading and ideas,” said Diana Rempe, a Street Books librarian.


The homeless face enough discrimination in society as it is, and while Street Books isn’t offering them an income or a roof over their heads, it hopes its sharing of literature can relieve at least a little bit of that stigma. The project is especially valued in Portland, a city where literary culture runs deep. In fact, Portland’s county library has one of the highest circulation among public libraries in America.

Heather, a patron of Street Books, values books “like gold”.

“Homeless people are smart. We deserve this. We deserve to be able to read,” said Heather.

For more on Street Books and how to support this mobile library, check out their site!

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Image Credits: Street Books

Children affected by autism spectrum disorders find solace at Toys R Us’s “quiet hour”

To kids affected by autism spectrum disorders, bright lights and loud noises can be painfully overwhelming. That’s why multinational chain retailer Toys R Us’s newly introduced “quiet hours” are making a huge difference to these children and their families.

In November, Toys R Us stores across the UK piloted an effort to open one hour earlier as part of a pre-Christmas event. Lights dimmed, music was switched off and announcements were withheld for the event, allowing customers to browse toys in a calm environment.

“Making slight adjustments to stores and creating a ‘quiet’ shopping period allows children and young adults to experience the fun in a toy shop regardless of their disability,” the chain’s marketing director said.

The one-off initiative was well-received by the community and many are calling for this to be done more regularly.

One mother of an autistic child said on Facebook that the event was “brilliant”, and she “had no idea what a difference low-lighting could make”. Another remarked a “complete change in behavior” of her son and thanked the retailer for their inclusivity.

Toys R Us is not the first to head such an event. UK supermarket giant Asda in Manchester Fort began a “quiet hours” initiative for shoppers affected by autism, and inspired eight other outlets to do the same. Toys R Us stores in America, where the retailer is based, is also looking into this.

Launching a “quiet hours” initiative costs little to shops, but simply lowering noise and turning down the lights can make a world of a difference to shoppers affected by autism. Toys R Us’s efforts are a start, and we hope to see more stores around the world doing the same.

Make-up artist helps cancer patients feel beautiful again

22-year-old makeup artist Norman Freeman knows how hard it is for cancer patients, having lost all their hair to treatment, to feel beautiful – and what he’s doing is making that just a little bit easier.

Calling hospital wards his studio, Freeman visits cancer patients and offers to do their makeup, giving them some much needed confidence at a difficult time in their life that is fraught with low spirits about their appearance.

Freeman himself understands what it’s like for patients to lose all their hair. At age 5, he was diagnosed with alopecia, an autoimmune disease causing chronic hair loss. Over the years, he lost all of his hair, including his eyebrows and eyelashes.

“I was teased. People didn’t know if I had cancer or what… they thought I had cancer, and they still teased me!” said Freeman of his past.

A passion discoered from watching Youtube tutorials soon turned into a career artist, later prompting him to launch a self-funded project to offer free services to cancer patients.

The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native focuses his efforts on the East Coast, visiting hospitals in New York and Philadelphia, but hopes to expand his reach using the donations from those who support his work.

“I know how untouchable makeup can make me feel,” said Freeman. “I want people to say, ‘I’m sick, and it’s awful, but I can still feel beautiful.’”

Turkeys not Tickets

Officers in Fort Worth, Texas, hand out turkeys instead of tickets in time for the holiday season!

Traffic officers in the town of Fort Worth, Texas, are changing things up a little: they’re handing out turkeys instead of tickets just in time for the holiday season. “Even though we do enforce traffic law and we do have some unpleasant decisions to make, we still are about the people,” said Officer Anthony Colter. Colter made five traffic stops on Wednesday, each time giving the driver a turkey to take home. 

Five teams of officers have been handing out Thanksgiving turkeys across the city to drivers, a welcome surprise for drivers who thought they were going to be pulled over and slapped with a hefty fine. The Thanksgiving turkeys were left over from a community project in which officers were bringing food to local residents.

 The act of kindness is spreading some much needed holiday cheer during the post-election season in America, where tensions are running high and citizens are feeling unheard.

“I’m pleased to see it, because there’s so much hate in this country right now,” one motorist said. “To see brotherly love, it’s very, very inspiring.”

Photo (and turkey) credits to Fort Worth Police Department