On her daily runs, Anne Mahlum jogged past a homeless shelter in Philadelphia. Over time, Mahlum developed a friendly rapport with some of the shelter’s residents who used to stand on the corner. She decided to reach out to the executive director encouraging him to allow the men join her on her runs. She bought running shoes and clothes for nine men and Back on My Feet was launched in 2007.
Back on My Feet came to Atlanta last November in hopes to improve the lives of Atlanta’s homeless population through running. Currently, there are three teams of 15 from Trinity House-Big Bethel, The Gateway Center, and The Salvation Army.
“Through running, we are aiming to improve self-esteem, improve discipline, building confidence, and a sense of consistency” said Program Director Tiffany Brennaman. “With our volunteers and the members’ commitment, we are aiming to change the perception of homelessness and really help these men move their lives forward.”
Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings, volunteers and the teams run in each facility’s Downtown Atlanta location as a part of the men’s commitment to the Back on My Feet program. On Saturdays, all groups run together at The Salvation Army Red Shield Services Shelter.
The program demands 90 percent attendance from the participants. In addition to running, the program awards each member a scholarship that is directly paid from Back on My Feet toward debts the members may owe. The nonprofit also partners with corporations to provide the participants with resources such as job readiness and financial literacy classes. The program gives the participants four to six months to become fully sufficient, gainfully employed, and in their own housing.
“This does not happen without the volunteers,” said John Hannula, executive director of Trinity Community Ministries. “The support from the community has a true impact on these men.”
Avien Reese, who joined the program in December, credits the organization for his pursuit of a positive change. “I never thought running would make such a difference to me. This has taught me to finish things once I start them, and the community support means everything,” he shared. Reese has finished three 5Ks and will start training for his first half-marathon.