Back On My Feet is a national nonprofit organization that aims to change the way society deals with homelessness and addiction. Through running, community support, as well as employment and housing resources, they offer a comprehensive approach to rehabilitating their members and helping them achieve independence. In order to join, members must be able and willing to work, and to go outside and run or walk. New members first commit to running three mornings a week at 5:30 am for two to three weeks. If they have 90% attendance, they continue running but begin reviewing resumes, practicing interviews, and going to workshops with volunteers and staff. By restoring confidence and self-esteem, and by offering compassion and hope through a supportive community, Back On My Feet gives members a solid foundation to pursue their goals on and off the road. 

“It was amazing, I thought it was a really great way for people to find a healthy, supportive environment while in treatment,” said William G., a member of Back On My Feet. Back On My Feet helped William get his personal trainers license, pay his back rent, and fix his credit. Now he is a Peer Advocate at Samaritan Daytop Village and he also does personal training on-site. William first became connected with Back On My Feet through the Pride Site Residential program at the Center for Recovery and Wellness (CRW). As a partner organization, Pride Site refers clients to Back On My Feet. Andrew T (Clinical Counselor PRIDE Site Residential), who is their main point of contact at CRW, works in conjunction with them to identify clients who would be a good fit for the program. Andrew himself is “very involved, he comes out to the morning runs, I think he’s done a couple marathons for us,” said Cynthia Rodriguez, a Program Manager at Back On My Feet.  

Cynthia started in 2019 as a Workforce Development Coordinator, visiting partner facilities, helping to recruit new members, and offering vocational counseling. During the pandemic Cynthia got promoted to her current position, where she oversees relationships with CRW and five partner organizations who refer members to their program. “I think what makes us and our mission unique is the benefits of running such as setting goals, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, and celebrating accomplishments, which is something that we’re really big on,” said Cynthia. “If you ran five miles this week, or you ran 25 miles this month, you get an award, depending on the marker. I think that shows how small wins can really build into a big achievement.” Success is measured by the number of miles ran, how many members become employed and housed, how many maintain employment.  

In conjunction with running, the community support model distinguishes Back On My Feet from similar organizations. When asked what was something Feet that you couldn’t learn from looking at Back On Your Feet’s website, Cynthia spoke enthusiastically about the energy of the morning runs: “When you push through (waking up early) and you’re at the morning circle up with the other volunteers who are so happy to see our members there…once you like feed off that energy, I think that’s something that you can’t really put into words. That’s kind of the secret sauce of our program…how we’re able to make running which some consider a solitary activity into a group or a team activity.”  

The nature of members, volunteers, and staff coming together around running also changes people’s preconceived notions about homelessness: “I think adding that community component and doing those morning runs…shatters some of those stereotypes that (members and volunteers) have around the individuals that we’re serving, and I think it also shatters our members’ idea that no one cares…It’s like a two-way street of humanity and community, it’s very special.” By offering an empathetic and comprehensive model for rehabilitating people suffering from addiction and homelessness, Back On My Feet contributes to shifting how society treats these problems in general.