Microphilanthropy is an occasional feature that calls attention to small acts of generosity that people do for the benefit of others and highlights little-known needs that could benefit from generosity, even on a small scale.
GOVERNMENT POLICY MAKERS, community activists, and social workers have designed many different programs with the goal of avoiding or remedying homelessness. The programs are aimed at varying segments of the homeless population and have differing expectations, requirements, and success rates. Perhaps the most unique and physically demanding intervention is the service offered in Boston by a non-profit organization called Back on My Feet. They mean it literally.
Back on My Feet invites homeless individuals to join one of several groups of runners who gather three mornings a week at different sites between 5:30 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. to run for 45 minutes. The groups are organized by Back on My Feet’s small staff and joined by volunteer members of Boston’s robust running community who participate to share their love for the sport and to engage people who need help. The staff maintains a relationship with shelters throughout the city to find homeless people who are interested in the challenge and benefits of exercise three days a week. The homeless individuals who join the running groups are 70 percent male, range in age from 18 to 65-plus, and approximately one-third are veterans.
The Back on My Feet program, which operates successfully in 12 other cities, is carefully designed to build confidence and a sense of community. Staffers emphasize that “no one runs alone” as a way of drawing in the homeless participants and encouraging them to become consistent runners. Joining their morning running group regularly over a period of 30 days will earn homeless participants the support of Back on My Feet for what the organization calls “Next Steps.” Approximately 80 percent of the initial participants fall into this category. They are congratulated for their consistency and given high quality running outfits as a way of solidifying their identification with the group. It is also made clear that more is expected of and available to them.
After the initial 30 days, the key part of Next Steps is the development of a plan for self-sufficiency. The steps vary depending on the needs of the individual and can include GED classes or other educational support, job training programs, employment referrals, or transportation assistance. Back on My feet has relationships with large corporations such as CVS and Accenture, who help provide the training and emulate a work setting. All the while the participants continue running with their morning group. The goal for Back on My Feet is to have two-thirds of the participants housed and employed within six months. Approximately 100 people are now participating in the program in Boston.
Back on My Feet does not see running as the solution to homelessness but offers running as a catalyst for people who need change in their lives. Consistent running can improve confidence, health, self-esteem, and a focus on goals. It is not for everyone, but it is an effective way to offer homeless individuals a place in a community of people who have varied backgrounds but who share a common interest.
The work of Back on My Feet is made possible by fund-raising events, donations from individuals, help from its corporate partners, and the volunteer time of dedicated runners willing to join the morning groups around the city. “We rely on the generosity and commitment of our volunteers and donors, who are true partners in this work,” says Theresa Lynn, executive director of the Boston chapter. “We need additional funders and program partners to expand our work.”
Experience shows that it is important to have several volunteer runners for each program participant to create the sense of community that enables change. If you can make a tax-deductible contribution or volunteer to join a running group, please contact Lynn, at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach out to their office at The Comcast Building, 426 East 1st Street, Boston, MA 02127 (Tel: 617-697-6505). More information is available on the web at http://boston.backonmyfeet.org/