For 8 years now, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings at 5:45 a.m., you can find me in the parking lot of a shelter in downtown Atlanta gathering with the men and women who live there. I am not there to serve soup or deliver canned goods or used clothes. I’m there to go for a 3-mile run, before the sun comes up, alongside the people who live at this shelter.
We are Back on My Feet Atlanta.
Back on My Feet helps save the lives of people experiencing homelessness and battling addiction in Atlanta and about 20 other U.S. cities. Through the power of a running program, community support, and essential employment and housing resources, Back on My Feet is transforming lives one mile at a time.
Our runs look a little different in the pandemic. We really miss the hugs, high fives, and circling up with our arms around each other before and after every run. Now we’ve got to cheer a little louder through our masks and stay six-feet apart as we run through the city streets before dawn. But our mission is the same. And our program is more critical than ever.
Volunteers like me meet at one of four Atlanta shelters before dawn three mornings a week to run with our teammates. My teammates are going through a substance-use recovery program. Many of them are veterans. They may have only been clean a few weeks at their first run. Some haven’t run a step since basic training. We are meeting them on the “first day of the rest of their lives.” I have run with them from their first mile. Then, several months later, I have wiped tears from my eyes as I watch some cross the finish line of their first marathon.
When you share these experiences with someone else – no matter how different you are – you can’t help but feel bound to the person.
The guys huff and puff through that first mile, then go on to run 5Ks, 10Ks, half-marathons and marathons. At their first race, the goal is to finish. Later, the goal is to finish faster. Then, to place in the top 3 in their age group, take first place in their age group, or even win the race.
The self-confidence and pride my teammates gain soon reaches into other aspects of their lives. Most never dreamed they’d run races. When they see that's possible, they begin to realize other achievements are within their reach, too. They leverage their running accomplishments into the confidence they need to go to school, get jobs, move out of the shelter, some start businesses, some marry, others regain custody of children, and some reunite with estranged family members.
It’s bittersweet to say goodbye to them as they leave the shelter and get back on their feet. (Though many stay engaged with their Back on My Feet family for years after.) And, it's also a privilege to see firsthand what people can accomplish when they have a team of supporters running alongside them.
On September 26, I’m running Back on My Feet’s annual Meaningful Miles 5K race (virtually this year) to raise money to help this organization continue to do its good work. Donations help provide running shoes and gear for our teammates, race entries, and job skills training. All of this gets members the confidence that leads to self-sufficiency. Please consider donating just $5 to this cause or more if you can.
Thank you from all of us!
To give you an idea of the impact your donation could have:
- $30 could provide a member with spring running gear
- $50 could provide a member with winter running gear
- $100 could provide a member the ability to celebrate with BoMF family during the year
- $250 could provide a member race fees, incentives to reach certain mileage milestones
- $500 could provide a member with education and job assistance
- $1,000 could provide a member with housing for a whole year