Running Helps the Homeless Get Back on Their Feet


As a Back on My Feet (BoMF) member and a resident of REST interim housing in Chicago, running has given Charles an opportunity to feel good about himself, receive support from a group, get healthy, and have a positive outlet for the frustrations of his situation.

Founded in 2007 in Philadelphia by Anne Mahlum, BoMF is a nonprofit that promotes self-sufficiency for homeless people by using running to build confidence, strength and self-esteem. The program has expanded to 6 cities, including Chicago.

The Chicago groups run from 3 different locations, covering the north, central and southern sections of the city. Members and volunteers meet at 5:45 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday in all kinds of weather. The group trains for local 5Ks, the Shamrock Shuffle, and even the Chicago Marathon. While the program does not provide shelter or food, members earn benefits that lead to job training, employment and housing, by committing and attending 90% of the group runs.

At 27, Charles has lived a long life. He is optimist about his future and has reflected on his past. Born in Jamaica, he lived in many cities across the U.S. before a near fatal gunshot attack forced him to rethink his path. He reunited with his mother, and moved to Chicago. As a resident of the REST home, he joined BoMF, and despite the severe trauma to his leg, has progressed to the point where he is undertaking a 10-mile race. He is participating in job training and his self-confidence and hope came through as we ran. His fitness is evident, as he talked easily for the duration of the run.

Julie, REST’s team leader, read an inspiring article about BoMF in Runner’s World in 2007. When the Chicago chapter was added in 2010, she signed up to be a volunteer leader. Julie and the other runners greet each other with hugs and discussion about real issues, like the fact that several members are moving out of REST into their own housing. People like Julie are the backbone of the operation, providing constant support, encouragement, and enthusiasm. She begins the run with a warm up, greeting and prayer, and then starts the run. With the lake and the sunrise in sight, the hope, optimism and support of the group was the absolute best way to begin the day. I can’t wait to run with them again.

Visit Back on My Feet or contact Kristina Olkowski, Executive Director, to learn more, volunteer or make a donation. There is great demand for more BoMF chapters and for expansion in cities like Chicago. It costs approximately $1,800 to get a new member up and running. Donations of running equipment are also welcome.