Photo by Margarita Dreyer.
When a woman walked into homeless shelters in Philadelphia in 2007 and asked residents if they wanted to go for a run, she didn’t know that by 2019 her individual gesture would be a movement.
Back on my Feet has grown from one woman to an organization with 13 chapters nationwide. According to the development director of the Boston chapter, Elizabeth Carr, Back on my Feet is unique because they spend one-on-one time with those at risk of homelessness and those who are experiencing homelessness.
The Boston chapter hosts morning runs three days a week in various locations in Boston at 5:45am. Kati Moran and Margarita Dreyer volunteer to serve as team leaders for the weekly runs.
Moran said she joined the organization because she likes to run and has a public health background. She says one of the most positive aspects of the program is that it provides social support, and individuals are stronger when they’re part of a community.
“A few people that frequently attend the runs were quieter in the beginning and are now more vocal and visibly exhibit confidence,” Moran said. “This program does that; it boosts your confidence.”
Dreyer joined Back on my Feet in April 2017 in order to take on a new challenge. According to Dreyer, the program works for volunteers in the same way that it works for the members. “It’s all about believing in yourself,” she said. “All the runners have incredible strength because they have endured through many difficult situations. Staying consistent and motivated enough to show up for the runs not only increases discipline but also allows for physical, psychological, and spiritual growth,” Dreyer added.
Dreyer says that most people have a judgemental attitude towards homelessness, but we are all just a few paychecks away from it. In this program, people have a team to support them.
Dreyer added that even though the program provides support and encouragement, it’s the runners who have to put in all the time and work. “They have to show up and be engaged,” she said. “That is the first step.”
Throughout the years, she’s found joy in watching the changes in people who have joined the program.
“It’s truly magical to see the transformation and to actually be a part of their transformational journey,” she said.
Carr said that members who join the program run several different races throughout the year, although that is not a requirement to be in the program. The program provides the runners with running gear and shoes, in addition to working with runners to connect them with employers.
“We work hard to understand our members and what their needs are, which are different from one person to the next. That is what makes this work challenging and rewarding at the same time.” To date, approximately 80 percent of the members who join the program become successfully employed. Alumni of the program go on to obtain raises or move on to higher positions.
An alumnus, Kurt Ronan, joined the program in 2010 and since then has graduated from the program and become a prolific runner. He has successfully completed marathons in Boston, New York and Berlin, raising money for Back on my Feet in the process. His goal is to complete the World Marathon Majors, a series of six of the largest and most renowned marathons in the world. Currently, only about 6,500 people in the world have finished the Majors. Ronan credits Back on my Feet for not just turning him into a dedicated runner but also for providing job stability and security, which has built a strong foundation for his family.
“When I joined the program I was at a low point in my life and wanted to die,” he said. “Running changed my life for the better. I can’t stress enough how much this organization helped me. Not only am I grateful now, but so is my entire family.”