Back On My Feet

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Robert Sondak
Spare Change News

Running Program Helps Homeless Build Skills

A new nonprofit organization is promoting running as a means to building self-confidence, strength, endurance, and self-sufficiency amongst those experiencing homelessness.

Back On My Feet (BOMF) is an organization creating running teams made up of primarily males (shelter residents) and non-resident members (volunteers) and people interested in running.

Of these volunteers, there is a core group consisting of individuals who serve as team leader, team organizer and social coordinator. Other non-resident members include working and professional males and females along with college students. These people meet three days a week at 5:30 a.m. to go on runs of anywhere from one to five miles each day.

BOMF does not provide any food or shelter, but rather focuses on building a community teaching and helping people to develop discipline, teamwork and leadership skills. All members, regardless of race, education and socioeconomic backgrounds, join together to move their lives forward as well as teammates.

BOMF Boston was launched in May 2010 by a core group of people including Shannon Varney, Vic Acosta, and Bridget Horn. BOMF Boston is part of a seven-chapter national network including chapters in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington D.C., Chicago, Indianapolis and Dallas.

The first BOMF chapter was launched in Philadelphia in 2007 by veteran runner Anne Mahlum. Mahlum ran past a group of homeless men on her 5:00 a.m. runs. One morning, she contacted the shelter director, acquired donated running gear, and in July 2007 led a group of nine-shelter residents in a one-mile run. BOMF’s mission of utilizing running as a motivational tool suddenly drew the interest of advocates and shelter people and suddenly the program expanded nationally in six cities including Boston.

BOMF Boston is a six to nine-month program that works with individuals living in homeless facilities. Teams are formed at the centers. It is at these centers the foundation of BOMF is created and flourishes through the dedication of running as a motivational tool.

“In Boston we partner with the Boston Rescue Mission, St. Franics House, N. E. England Shelter for Homeless Veterans, and Hope House,” said Philip Hailer, Boston Program Coordinator. “We also have teams at Father Bill’s in Quincy and the Somerville Homeless Collation.”

Hailer continued to describe how BOMF Boston is organized.
“BOMF Boston expanded from three to six teams beginning in 2011,” he said. “We field anywhere from 45 to 60 members on teams within six metro Boston shelters.”

Hailer described how BOMF teams operated. ”Teams run on the streets near their center. We also meet once a month for meetings to review running performances, make announcements and recruit new members.”
After 30 days in the BOMF program, each member who maintains a 90 percent attendances and a good attitude moves to the Next-Step Phase. Next-Step aligns with education, job training, financial literacy, job partnerships and housing, education and job opportunities.

Next-Step is an integral part of helping resident members to move forward towards sustainability. Next-Step also allows members the opportunity to earn $1,250 in financial aid to help them achieve there goals.

“We have a waiting list of four new shelters,” Hailer said. “They are in addition to the six shelter teams that we now have.”

BOMF Boston continues to grow as it enters the second decade of the century. The Boston program now has a waiting list of four shelters interested in joining the program. Program membership now falls between 250 to 350 members.

According to the BOMF Boston web page, the program receives funds from four different areas. Individual donors make up the largest supporting group and contribute 35 percent of the annual funds. Corporations form the second-largest supporting base and contribute 20 percent of the funds yearly through contributions or pledge drives. Over 50 Boston, Cambridge and Boston-metro corporations support the work of BOMF financially. They include John Hancock Life Insurance and New Balance Sneaker Company. Foundations make up the third institutional-base organization and contribute 18 percent of the annually funding to BOMF annually. The fourth funding component consists of events sponsored by the organization or that they participate in.

“We had a resident member from St. Francis House complete the 2010 Boston Marathon,” Hailer said.

Although this member did not fundraise, Hailer highlighted that BOMF raised funds at the Boston Marathon for 2010.

“We had a group of fund-racers who ran in the BM for 2010. These runners raised $150,000 for our work,” Hailer said.

Hailer elaborated that 2011 was a busy year for BOMF Boston.

“We had members run in the St. Patrick’s Day 5K race in South Boston on the same day as the parade,” Hailer said. “ We also had members run in the Somerville Road Race at Tufts University, the Bunker Hill Road Race, the Ruckus Boston in Marshfield and the Hingham 4th of July Parade.”

ROBERT SONDAK is a Spare Change News writer/vendor.

Robert Sondak is a vendor and a writer for Spare Change News.

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