Back on my Feet, a homeless advocacy agency, is partnering with the women’s soccer team at Temple to promote self-sufficiency through running.
In the bitter cold of Feb. 12 at 5:35 a.m., nine members of Back on My Feet’s Team New Jerusalem Now emerged from their temporary residence for their routine run.
A nonprofit organization, Back on My Feet is designed to promote the self-sufficiency of the homeless population through running. One of eight teams in the Philadelphia chapter, Team New Jerusalem Now meets Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at West Norris Street between 20th and 21st streets.
After the members met on this early morning, they were joined by a few familiar faces belonging to members of the Temple women’s soccer team.
“It’s really cool to interact with people you wouldn’t otherwise,” Emily Pendleton, a sophomore undeclared midfielder/defender, said.
Upon greeting one another, the New Jerusalem teammates were then met by team leader Suzanne McHenry. After their warm up, the teammates recited the Serenity Prayer.
The group ran its course, which was a slightly shorter distance than usual, due to the cold temperature and icy roads, traveling from Norris Street to Cecil B. Moore Avenue, up to Broad Street and north returning to Norris Street.
Conversation among the volunteers and members picked up, bringing a casual atmosphere to the forefront. Despite the varying running abilities of team members, no member completes the course alone.
David Dabayo, who has been in the organization for slightly over two weeks, explained that this experience has reawakened his love of running.
“It’s a sign of God because that’s the only sport I ever did,” said Dabayo, who ran track in high school.
Undeclared freshman midfielder/forward Jaclyn Krostek attested to Dabayo’s skill, explaining his success since the beginning.
After the run, high fives and congratulatory words were immediately exchanged.
This routine run is one of many that Back on My Feet has been responsible for since its creation in 2007 by founder Anne Mahlum.
The organization, which has extended to Baltimore and Washington D.C., does not provide food or shelter for its participants but instead aims to instill strength and motivation in them. Along with this, the group gives gear necessary for the runs and possible weather conditions to its members.
Nonetheless, running is only the start. After approximately two months in the organization, those participants with a 90 percent attendance rate in the runs enter the “Next Steps Program,” which helps connect the members with job placement and educational opportunities.
“Back on My Feet is the right title for it,” Kevin Brown, a six-month Team NJN volunteer, said. “My life has changed as a result of it.”
Austin Gee, a program coordinator at BOMF, said this is one of the most rewarding aspects of his experience.
“I get to see someone who has been down and out get back up,” Gee said. “I had the privilege of helping three people move out of their shelters and into their own homes.”
Not receiving any money from state or municipal means, the organization is funded by private donations, merchandise sales, company sponsorships and from events – the “20in24” event being one of its biggest.
Katy Gray, a junior midfielder/forward for the soccer team, learned of BOMF’s efforts at a Service Leaders Summit and began volunteering in the fall of 2009.
Shortly after, the team learned of the organization and chose to become volunteers for the Friday runs after winter break, splitting between BOMF Team NJN and Team Ridge.
“New Jerusalem was struggling to get non-residential members … Temple women’s soccer team really picked that up,” Gee said.
Aside from Temple’s participation, Gee explained that other local schools have been helping out too, citing University of Pennsylvania and Chestnut Hill College.
Although no other Temple teams have joined BOMF, Gee hopes more volunteers will soon follow in the footsteps of the women’s soccer team.
“[The reaction has been] phenomenal since the first time,” said coach David Jones of the women’s soccer team, whose has been temporarily prevented from attending runs due to an injury. “A lot of them were apprehensive in the beginning.”
The soccer players described their experience with BOMF as positive and fun, adding that they laugh a lot during their Friday runs. The team, which has discussed their experiences in their blog, will be volunteering with BOMF through the Spring.
Team NJN, along with the other seven Philadelphia teams, will be participating in the “Frostbite 5-Miler” at Ambler Feb. 20.
Angelo Fichera can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.