Even in the often quoted “city that never sleeps”, the hours between 5 AM and 7 AM are considered sacred moments of slumber for most individuals . For nearly two hundred New Yorkers however, these pivotal hours have provided profound life transformations through the incredible non-profit organization called Back On My Feet (BoMF). This unique running club began in Philadelphia in 2007 by founder Anne Mahlum. Mahlum convinced the administration of a local homeless shelter to offer a running program to its residents. The group’s mission was (and still is) to provide hope to those experiencing homelessness through group running. It quickly caught on and has since expanded to 10 other cities. This month, the New York City chapter is proud to celebrate its 2 year birthday, with many fun events in store. Since April 2012, 193 members of the chapter have gained employment, found housing, enrolled in education, or accomplished a combination of the three. In New York, there are four branches: Uptown, Times Square, Bowery, and Brooklyn. Three mornings a week at 5:30AM, each team meets, completes a warm-up , forms a circle of serenity, and executes the planned run. At the end of each run, the teams reconvene to their circle of serenity. Each meeting point is a shelter or half-way house and their teams are comprised of both residents and non-residents (volunteers). In addition, all of the locations offer treatment programs as many of the residents have experienced issues with alcohol and/or drugs.
Aside from the daily subway paper am New York and the occasional free coffee coupon from Starbucks, recipients of BoMF have come to realize that there are few handouts in life. In order to qualify for help from the program, each member must have 90% attendance. After 30 days, they are eligible for the “next steps program”, which consists of financial literacy and job preparedness. After 90 days with 90% attendance, they are eligible for financial assistance. BoMF will grant them the option to remove a one time roadblock, helping them to achieve a personal goal. The roadblocks range from a security deposit for an apartment to paying parking tickets so that they may obtain a CDL license. Funding for these opportunities are provided through corporate sponsorships and via fundraising.
John has been running with back on my feet since November 2013. A U.S. Army veteran, he moved to New York in 1989, shortly after a three and a half year service commitment. Plagued by a long battle with substance abuse, he sought recovery at Samaritan Village in Queens. It was there where he discovered the group that would become his destiny. “Every morning, I would sit on the porch, smoke a cigarette, and drink a cup of coffee. I saw this group and I asked someone what it was about. It just looked like something I wanted to be a part of. So I joined.” Aside from drills in the Army over 20 years ago, John didn’t have a physical fitness routine. “At the beginning, it was a lot of discipline. I wasn’t used to waking up that early and being around people who were more excited than me at that hour!”. He continued, “But i just kept doing it and now, it’s like nothing to get up when the alarm goes off at 5:00 AM.” BoMF took John out of his comfort zone. “It challenged me to do something that I said couldn’t be done. Then I realized after a short period of time, that it could be done. The only person that could do it was me.” He added, “This group has really encouraged me.” Their support and his own self-confidence has served him well. Just last month, John completed the New York City half-marathon- for someone who only recently reignited an exercise routine, the 13.1 mile trek was quite an accomplishment. “It started as a joke, but then I became serious about it,” he says. “I started doing long runs on the weekend, starting at 8 miles and then continuing to 10.” Humbly, he acknowledges his fellows from his BoMF Uptown group. “They helped me to overcome my fear and taught me that it didn’t matter where I placed in the half marathon. The important thing is that I finished the race.” John continues to lead the morning warm-ups as Team Captain: “I like feeling that I am part of something and contributing to the group.” He observes, “Running is the easy part; discipline is the hard part.” John will continue that daily focus as he prepares for his first ever marathon in NYC in November. His professional mission is a practical venture: “Run in the morning. Work during the day. Rest at night.”
2 YEAR BIRTHDAY AND VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES
As BoMF NYC celebrates two solid years of tenure, it has some engaging activities planned for April and beyond. On April 9th, all four branches met at the Delancey Street offices for their Birthday run. They also launched the 180 challenge, encouraging non-residents to fund raise $180 per person for the organization. On May 1st, BoMF welcomes the entire NYC community to a group run in Central Park. Participants will meet at New York Running Company’s Columbus Circle location at 6:30 pm for a fun run, a scavenger hunt, and some mingling. On May 31st, BoMF will proudly partner in the 5k Color Run, to be held at Citifield in Queens. Non-residents and community individuals are strongly encouraged to volunteer.
Jean Hartig serves as Director of Communications and Corporate Relations for the New York City chapter. “There is an opportunity for runners, joggers, and walkers alike to share in an activity that has brought them so much joy.” She continues, “To be able to share that joy with those experiencing a life transition helps create community. Ideally, we want to build that community beyond the morning runs.” While the primary focus is on running, there are all levels of participation. Hartig explains, “The goal is really to get outside, circle up, talk to each other, and become more active.” She has witnessed the positive affect BoMF has had on so many. “When there is that activity to look forward to and that team to be held accountable to, changes happen in our members.”
Whoever said second chances can’t happen, should log on to the site, lace up their sneakers, and look at the results.
WHAT: Back On My Feet
WHEN & WHERE: Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning.: 4 locations in New York City. For specific information, log-on to http://nyc.backonmyfeet.org
WHY: Haven’t YOU ever hoped for a second shot?