Monday morning at 5:30 a.m. a little over 150 people are going to assemble for a morning run in downtown Austin, TX.
30 of those runners will be running their first mile in a long, long time if ever. The others will be helping them take their first strides toward self-confidence and self-sufficiency. This run will be special for everyone as it is the first run of the Back on My Feet Austin Chapter. The tenth such chapter in the Nation.
Back on My Feet is a national nonprofit organization that uses running to help those experiencing homelessness change the way they see themselves so they can make real change that results in employment and independent living. http://www.backonmyfeet.org/
Back on My Feet was founded on July 3, 2007 in Philadelphia where a young professional women, Anne Mahlum had been running past the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission on her morning runs for months. Each day she would see the men standing outside of the shelter and wonder why is it that I get to run by each day? Why can’t they run with me? Why can’t they get to experience the same things I do through the sport of running.
On one occasion as she sped by one of the men called out, “Do you just run all day?” and she replied, “Do you just stand there all day?” – and with that a short 10 second relationship began to build.
Anne called the Mission, and with a little persistence, received permission to start an official running club with nine guys living in the shelter. Anne got new running shoes donated and gave them running clothes and socks. She had one requirement, anyone who joined must sign what she called a “Dedication Contract,” committing to:
- showing up every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 6 a.m.
- being on time
- respecting yourself
- supporting teammates
Each runner, including Anne, signed and dated the document and the first one-mile run took place July 3. In a week, the group grew to add 10 more people as volunteers. The morning runs created a community that respected equality and promoted and rewarded positive behavior. Friendships were formed and smiles were constant. Anne made two powerful observations that helped her to realize this growing community could be so much more than just a running club – this could be the core to changing people’s lives:
- The Members were coming out every day of their own volition. Anne believed (and still does!) that voluntary behavior is the only way change is possible. No one was forcing or threatening the individuals experiencing homelessness to be on that corner at 6 a.m. They were there because they wanted to be.
- While recording how far people ran after the morning runs, each Member waited anxiously to receive credit for their hard work. It was clear: no matter how many differences there are between us, the similarities are what connect us and make us human. We all want to be noticed, appreciated, recognized, valued, cared for and loved. It is these emotions that drive us every day.
The theoretical question that Anne asked herself was, “if we can change the way people see themselves, can we change the direction of their lives?” She felt very strongly that if we could help people experiencing homelessness see themselves as deserving, capable, hardworking, responsible, disciplined, focused and reliable, it would be possible for them to move toward independence. This question is no longer a theory – it is a reality.
Today, 46% of Residential Members in the Back on My Feet program move their lives forward with a job, independent housing or both.
This special organization launches on Monday morning – 5:30 a.m. outside of RunTex on Riverside Drive.
Very rarely in life do you know exactly when and where lives are going to be changed forever. But in this case – we do.
I’ve run a lot of miles over the past 7 years, somewhere around 15,000 of them, but I can honestly say that I have very rarely looked forward to a run more than Monday’s.
Hope to see all you Austinites out there to support the mission!
Feet Austin Weird! http://austin.backonmyfeet.org/