A fellow volunteer at a charity flea market approached me while we were unpacking donations, and asked me if I'd seen any clothing suitable for running. I waved her over to a box where shirts, sports bras, shorts and all kinds of clothing made of wicking fabric were beginning to accumulate. She bagged it all up and wrote out a check to the charity.
"It's not for me," she explained. "It's for Back on My Feet."
Back on My Feet, I learned, is a nonprofit organization that promotes self-sufficiency among formerly homeless individuals by getting them involved in running. It works with individuals living in transitional housing facilities, and it encourages them to get out and run on a regular basis as part of their continued recovery.
The logic is brilliantly simple: running (I guess any form of exercise, really) builds confidence, strength and self-esteem. It promotes healthy habits and helps keep people from falling back into bad ones. Many of those in the program are already involved in a 12-step program, and this introduces them to the runner's high instead.
Individuals who become involved in the program are already interested in turning their lives around, and the program seems to strike a chord with them. Through their running and training, they realize that setting goals can result in real accomplishments they can be proud of.
Founded in 2007, Back on My Feet now has chapters in Baltimore, Washington, Boston, Dallas, Chicago, Indianapolis, Philadelphia and Atlanta. The Back on My Feet website includes success stories, a history of the program, donation information and more.
Because Back on My Feet is all about group runs, it's very team-oriented. The participants encourage one another to keep going. In fact, I learned, it's not uncommon to see participants running in our local 5Ks, 10Ks and so on. In a few weeks, a large number of participants will take part in the Baltimore Running Festival, which includes a marathon, half-marathon, relay and 5K. Others will be helping set up tables and hand out literature.
According to my friend, who does volunteer work with a transitional housing program where there are Back on My Feet participants, newcomers to the facility often want to take up running, but lack the clothing that makes it comfortable. She told me she had set up a donation box at her gym as well, and was very pleased by the response.
"This is great," she said, peeking into the bag she had just filled while we were talking. "Some of this stuff still has tags on it."
It occurred to me that as athletes who participate in tournaments, fun runs and more, we all get more logo merchandise - shirts, hats, sweatbands, socks, you name it - than we know what to do with. My friend had obviously found the right place to ask for donations. Maybe anyone with a Back on My Feet chapter in their area can set up a donation box at their own health club. I've already discovered the benefits of recycling old shoes, but this is a nice option for other types of clothing.
It's great to hear that regular exercise can help bring people so far in their lives. It's even better to know that when the horn sounds and the Baltimore Marathon starts, a bunch of people will have already made the greatest strides of their lives just getting to that starting line.