Empowers the homeless through running.
Back on My Feet (BoMF) is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to creating independence and self-sufficiency within homeless and underserved populations by first engaging them in running as a means to build confidence, strength and self-esteem. Instead of providing the homeless with food or shelter, BoMF provides a community and support network that promotes equality, respect, discipline, teamwork and leadership. Residential Members- or those receiving BoMF services- gather to run every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 5:45 a.m., where they are greeted with friendly hugs from volunteers. Members jog alongside volunteers, forge friendships, and gain entrance into a deeply supportive network. This unlikely community responds to a unique need in homelessness services: linking Residential Members, who often struggle from isolation, low self-esteem, and lack of support, to volunteers, who are deeply committed to breaking the stigma and perceptions of poverty.
Once members meet a 90% attendance rate and demonstrate their dedication to the BoMF program, as well as positive change in attitude, they advance to the ‘Next Steps’ phase, where they gain access to educational, job training and employment opportunities, as well as financial aid. The organization has experienced incredible results: 50% of Members successfully move from dependency to an independent lifestyle. In short, BoMF focuses on changing the direction of people’s lives by helping them to change the way they seem themselves.
- Mission | Theory Of Change
BoMF’s approach focuses on an innate desire for all of us, regardless of age, race, socio-economic status- to feel recognized, appreciated, valued and important. The organization was founded in Philadelphia in 2007 by CEO Anne Mahlum, who used running to deal with her father’s gambling addiction. One day, Anne’s route led her past a homeless shelter in Philadelphia and she realized that running could help others as it helped her by serving as a catalyst for individual change. The BoMF theory of change hinges upon improving Members’ overall health and physical, mental, social and economic well-being. Through frequent reporting, volunteers track Residential Members’ attendance rates and mileage at every morning run, as well as improvements in self-esteem, trust, health, and overall outlook. As Residential Members become increasingly involved, 38% will obtain stable employment, 21% will secure housing, 91% will report their self-esteem has improved, and 91% will report being excited about the future.
- History | Track Record
In five years, BoMF has evolved into a $4.8 million nonprofit with nine chapters nationally, including Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Indianapolis, Atlanta, and New York City. The organization is managed by a staff of 40+ professionals with thousands of volunteers and hundreds of Members. Partnerships with local homeless service agencies, universities, and running and corporate communities are key to BoMF’s success. BoMF-Baltimore, the chapter which would receive OPF funding, collaborates with five local facilities, including The Helping Up Mission of Baltimore, Christopher’s Place Employment Academy, Maryland Center for Veterans’ Education, Baltimore Station, and American Rescue Workers. BoMF prioritizes sustainability by continuing to engage BoMF Residential Members long after their graduation from the Next Steps program through a robust alumni program, social events, and designating graduated alumni as running group leaders. In addition to the significant national attention BoMF has received, the Baltimore chapter has been featured on the Today show as well as in the Baltimore Sun and Baltimore Magazine.
- Grant Usage
A grant from OPF would be used by BoMF to purchase essential running gear to clothe its Residential Members for all of 2013. BoMF would allocate remaining funding to expand the Baltimore chapter’s staff capacity either through a paid intern or new partnership with the local Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Despite BoMF’s growing national presence and reputation, the organization strives to maintain one-on-one ratios in its running groups to ensure efficient expansion and the preservation of the closeknit relationships that develop between volunteers and Residential Members. Every additional staff member in the BoMF Baltimore office directly translates to the chapter’s increased ability to serve hundreds of Residential Members in the region.
- Financial, Staffing, & Project Summary
BoMF has experienced considerable revenue growth of 31% from 2010-2011, and is deliberate in diversifying its funding streams. The organization-wide goal is to maintain between 3 to 6 months of its operating reserves to provide financial security for any local chapter experiencing financial strain. For example, the Baltimore chapter experienced a deficit in 2011 as a result of an investment in an innovative new fundraising structure. Nationwide, BoMF is run by 46 full-time employees; 3.5 (one part-time employee) run the Baltimore chapter.
BoMF’s 2013 agenda includes opening chapters in Austin, Texas, and along the West Coast as well as expanding its corporate structure to include a Chief Strategy & Operations Officer, who will assist BoMF in maximizing impact nationally while still ensuring that local chapters provide Members with an intimate and attentive support network.
- Working Group Analysis
- Nominator Endorsement
Participant Endorsement, by Julia Holup, current BoMF-Washington, D.C. Volunteer:
It’s barely 5:45am when I arrive at La Casa, a homeless shelter serving northwest DC. Our running group is black and white, privileged and poor, college-educated and struggling to complete high school, and already hugging one another and exchanging morning greetings. Despite our different backgrounds, we jog down the street in the same direction. Running teaches you about mental strength- putting mind over matter; about goal setting- working to increase your mileage; and about pushing beyond what you think you're capable of. Running with BoMF teaches our members lessons critical to success for every individual, but especially those who are struggling to overcome what may be the lowest point in their lives.
No book or video will tell you how to say "no" when you're tempted to relapse, or to tell yourself "I can do this" when you're full of self doubt. These are lessons you learn by doing- by sweating- and by failing- and then succeeding through perseverance. Lessons learned by members who never thought they could run one mile and three weeks later are running three. Most importantly, these lessons are learned and internalized in an environment where people around you care- deeply- whether you achieve what you set out to do. The organization's genesis and strength is built upon running, the community it creates, and the safety and support our members off to one another. It's said it takes a village to raise a child. It takes an equally large group of people who care and are committed to help others turn their life around, strengthened by the miles we run and stories we share.