On Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings at 5:45 a.m., you can find me downtown at the Salvation Army shelter in Atlanta exchanging hugs 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 “Team Sally” (for Salvation Army) of 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.
Volunteers like me meet at one of three Atlanta shelters (Trinity House, Gateway Center, and Salvation Army) before dawn three mornings a week to run about three miles with our teammates. At Sally, most of our teammates are veterans going through a substance-use recovery program. They may have only been clean a few weeks when they show up for their first run. Some haven’t run a single mile since basic training. We are quite literally meeting them on the “first day of the rest of their lives.” We run their first mile and many more with them, cheering them on and encouraging them with every step. I have had the privilege of running alongside guys for their first mile and then, several months later, wiping tears from my eyes as I watch them 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.
We run alongside guys as they huff and puff through that first mile, walking most of the way and barely able to speak, and then go on to run 5Ks, 10Ks, half-marathons and marathons. In their first race, the goal is to finish. Later, the goal is to finish faster than they did the last time. And for some, the goal is eventually to place in their age group, take first place in their age group, or even win the race.
The self-confidence and pride my teammates gain from running soon reaches into all 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 21st, I’m running Back on My Feet’s annual Meaningful Miles 5K race 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:
- $50 can provide winter running gear for a member
- $100 can purchase a public transportation card to ensure safe and reliable transportation to and from work.
- $250 can provide basic furnishings, such as a bed, for a new home.
- $500 can provide enrollment fees, materials, tools and books to go back to school to learn a trade or begin a professional career.
- $1000 provides a security deposit and first month’s rent to help a member secure a home.
- $2500 covers the cost of 25 members to go through our computer literacy or financial literacy program to ensure success after employment.