Back on My Feet
In the winter of 2007, 26 year old Anne Mahlum was at a crossroads in her life. To cope, she returned to a former passion from her teen years.... running.
Each day, as Anne pounded the pavement in Philadelphia, she ran past a homeless shelter called the "Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission." In the early morning light, Anne could see a group of men standing in the cold, waiting for the shelter to open.
Soon the men noticed her as well and began to taunt her. "Hey, do you run past here EVERY DAY?" Anne ignored them, hoping they would stop. But they didn't. Day after day, the men called out. Finally, she'd had enough.
The next morning she yelled back: "Hey, do you stand in front of this building EVERY DAY?" And thus, a kind of tentative, irreverent banter developed between Anne and the men that eventually led to friendly waves, greetings, jokes and laughter.
As spring arrived, Anne began to wonder: What might happen if instead of running PAST the men, she started running WITH them?
Her friends told her she was crazy. "Homeless men don't run!" The director of the shelter told her it would never work; it might even be dangerous. But the thought persisted. Anne began to dwell on all the life lessons she had learned from running: discipline, focus, persistence.
By early summer, the director agreed to let Anne meet with the men in the shelter. Anne told the men she had only ONE requirement. Anyone who joined the running group had to sign a "Dedication Contract" which stated:
"I agree to show up every
Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 6 a.m.
I will be on time, respect myself, and support my teammates."
Anne found a company willing to donate new running shoes, socks and clothes to the nine men who signed up. The first one mile run took place on July 3, 2007. Anne recorded each man's distance that day and in the weeks and months that followed.
Today, Back on My Feet is now a national "for-purpose" 501(c)3 organization with 11 chapters nationwide. Their 4,000 members have logged 366,041 miles and counting. Forty-six percent of their members now have a job, housing or both. They have an 86% attendance rate at morning runs.
The theoretical question Anne asked herself seems worthy of consideration: "If those experiencing homelessness see themselves as deserving, capable, hardworking, responsible, disciplined, focused, and reliable, is it possible for them to move toward independence?"
I am inspired by this story. It makes me wonder about the labels and limitations I place on myself. If I can let go of them and see myself as truly deserving and fully capable, who might I become? What might I do that in this moment seems crazy or impossible? If I can let go of the bias and prejudice I hold about others, what kind of world might we be able to create together?
Dear Lord, Thank you for seeing each of us in the fullness of our potential. Help us develop new ways of seeing, doing and being in the world. Amen
Avis is a long-time member of Saint Andrew. She is Director of Trauma Smart at Crittenton Children's Center, a program that helps children affected by trauma and the adults who love and care about them. Avis also teaches in the graduate social work department at KU. You can reach her firstname.lastname@example.org