For members of Back on My Feet — a national program that helps reintegrate homeless people into society — the Spring Garden Station on Broad Street is a symbol of progress.
BoMF holds group runs every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for people living in shelters or recovery houses. Members of the Temple University Running Club meet with BoMF for joint runs twice a week at 5:30 a.m.
BoMF participants and TURC meet up at Spring Garden Station where they start the morning with stretches and a prayer huddle.
“Everyone running is encouraging each other, which is really neat,” said TURC member Carli Showmaker, a sophomore media studies and production and advertising major. “I know sometimes I will be running [at] a slower pace, but then you have the guys that are even behind you and they are encouraging you.”
In honor of National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week, which begins on Saturday and is also known as Sneaker Week, club members will work to raise $1,000 for BoMF from Nov. 14 – 17 with tables at the Bell Tower and the lobby of Alter Hall. They encourage students and faculty members to raise awareness for BoMF by wearing sneakers on Main Campus that week. They will also accept donations — in the form of cash or sneakers — with a chance for donors to win raffle prizes.
Ramon Laboy, the program director of BoMF’s Philadelphia chapter, said the program started more than nine years ago when avid runner Ann Malum was running past Sunday Breakfast, a shelter on 13th Street near Vine that has provided meals and shelter for homeless people since 1878.
Malum asked a group of men smoking cigarettes outside the shelter if they wanted to join. Soon, she had an entire group of men running with her on her morning route. Now, BoMF partners with eight shelters and recovery homes in Philadelphia to recruit members and is opening its 12th chapter in San Francisco in two weeks.
BoMF focuses on running because the activity “increases endorphins, inspires [people] to achieve new goals and offers us serenity and a sense of accomplishment when we need it most,” according to its website.
“There is no better feeling than waking up before the sun,” said Megan Stoner, a senior marketing major and the vice president of TURC. “There’s something about running with others before the day begins and being welcomed with hugs.”
From there, they run distance runs and timed miles.
TURC got involved when Lexi Cleary, a physical therapy doctorate student and volunteer for BoMF, introduced the two organizations, Stoner said.
James Alston, a participant in the program, said he was in “hard situation” before he joined BoMF.
“[The program] has been great,” Alston said. “I love the running, I love the support and I love the people.”
Runners in the program for 30 days with an attendance rate of at least 90 percent can move on to Next Steps, Laboy said, which helps participants gain employment and housing with resources like financial assistance and job training.
As part of the Next Steps phase of the program, BoMF also provides a job-readiness workshop where it hosts mock interviews and sharpens the participants’ resumes. The focus isn’t on giving out jobs, but creating connections, Laboy said.
BoMF also partners with AT&T to offer technology workshops to teach participants how to use iPads and computers, making it easier to search for jobs. The program also hosts workshops with Bank of America to educate participants on managing their credit and bank accounts, Laboy said.
Statistics for job placement vary from year to year, Laboy said, but so far this year, the group has a 52 percent job placement rate for its 150 members in Philadelphia. The group hopes to reach 65 percent before 2017.
“I think one of the things that keeps me here is the long-term change I see in the individuals that participate in the program,” Laboy said.
Claire Patterson, a junior risk management and insurance major and TURC member, interned with BoMF in 2014. Shortly after, she started running with the group.
Patterson said the determination of BoMF’s participants stands out to her.
“I think there is something amazing about starting with a member who is not in the best place in their life, and over the course of six months or a year watching them just transform themselves with just their own hard work,” Patterson said. “It’s incredible to see someone who is just so dedicated turn their life around.”
Kaitlyn Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.